Raising The Bar

As a child, I believed in Santa, the big bearded man in his blazing red suit, long white beard and a belly that would jiggle when he chuckled ‘Ho, ho, ho!’. Santa would land his sleigh on our roof, enter our house through the back door, tiptoe his way toward the tinsel and flashing lights that were wrapped around the pillars and cupboards of our built-in home bar and leave a pile of presents placed neatly atop the counter. 

International school in Indonesia gave me Santa and coming from a non-Christian family, decorating the bar was our ode to Christmas. No Christmas trees were ever erected, but in the spirit of the season, some of the furniture around the house would get tarted up for the occasion, and Mariah (having just released that album) would jingle her way through each room. I would climb high and plonk myself on a bar stool opposite the counter and allow the twinkling lights reflecting off the glass surface to add a little magic to the whole experience of seeing what I received from Santa that year.

It amuses me now, but the scene of a Muslim family decorating a built-in home bar at Christmas felt normal to me at the time - just as ordinary as the more traditional Christmas’ spent with our extended family in Perth. There was always a beautiful tree tucked away in their front room where we would gather and exchange presents. A scrumptious Christmas lunch or dinner would be served in the dining room and each of us would wear our crinkled cracker crowns and shake our heads at the lame jokes inside.

We were left to our own devices when we did not visit extended family. In Dubai, the shopping malls would explode with colourful Christmas decorations, cashing in on the external silly season. As you walked within the bubble of extravagance and consumerism, Michael Buble’s Christmas carols would suddenly pause to allow the call to prayer to be played over the loud speakers. We would take advantage of the delectable Christmas buffets that were on offer at various hotel chains as we take any excuse to dress up for a family meal out. These hotels were not without their giant Christmas trees, each tree topping the next hotel in size and extravagance.

Maybe it was because I never had a tree of my own that I felt a growing fondness toward the Christmas trees I encountered in my life. Though I did not feel a religious or meaningful connection to them, they always felt warm, inviting and were hypnotic to look at. We were at a friend’s family home when I decorated a Christmas tree from scratch for the first time – I was 25 years old. Whilst us ‘kids’ busied ourselves away weaving tinsel, lights and ornaments through the tree, the ‘adults’ took some delight at the fact it was a first for some of us.

Last Christmas was the first my immediate and extended family were not around and it became the first time I put a tree up at home. Having just moved to Melbourne, we invited the other ‘orphans’ we knew for a meal at our house on Christmas day. A small roast turkey with duck fat potatoes and pomegranate grain salad were among the foods laid out on our table, complete with crackers and a local grocery store bought tree and decorations. It was simple, but it was mine and it twinkled away that December. Next will be a white Christmas!