For the past two weeks, Lorezia Veronica Ratnayake’s house has been buzzing as Christmas festive preparations get underway. The hustle and bustle is centred around her kitchen where she bakes cookies and cakes, and prepares traditional dishes for the season.
The aroma of spiced fruit cakes and gingerbread cookies gently wafts from the kitchen, signifying that preparations for the holiday feast have started in earnest.
On Lorezia’s kitchen countertop, there are tins of her signature Portuguese pineapple tarts. Each year, the grandmother-of-two bakes about 600 tarts to gift to her family and friends. They are one of her most sough-after delights during the Yuletide season.
It is a time-consuming task to make Lorezia’s buttery morsels, filled with homemade pineapple jam. Thankfully, she has many willing hands to help lighten her load.
For the past five years, Lorezia’s daughter-in-law Nimarta Kaur and Nimarta’s mother, Manjeet Kaur, have been helping her bake Christmas cakes and cookies. Manjeet, who lives in Jakarta, flies in a few weeks before Christmas to help with preparations.
Nimarta and Manjeet are Punjabi Sikhs from Indonesia.
“Nimarta married my son Nigel in 2012. Since then, Nimarta and Manjeet have been assisting me with cookies and cakes.
“Although Manjeet and Nimarta aren’t Catholics, they go the extra mile to decorate the Christmas tree and wrap up gifts too,” says Lorezia, 61, who lives in Subang Jaya, Selangor.
Manjeet, who was born in India, isn’t a stranger to Christian festivities. She studied in a Catholic school in Mumbai, India, and grew up with friends of different faiths including Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jains.
“There was a chapel in my school and my teachers were nuns. I also visited my friends during Easter and Christmas celebrations.
Helping out with Christmas preparations at Lorezia’s house certainly brings back fond childhood memories,” says Manjeet, 63, who moved to Jakarta after she got married in 1980.
Lorezia, a homemaker, chips in, “It is more enjoyable when loved ones gather together to prepare delectable delights from scratch. It quickens the time taken to make cookies, in a fun and merry way.”
Lorezia takes charge of mixing the batter for delicious treats such as London almond biscuits, cashewnut cookies and cornflakes cookies.
Her sister, Rosalind Perera, 48, and mother-in-law Lucy Cheong, 82, are also roped in to help with festive preparations.
Lorezia prepares the items in batches. Her fruitcakes are baked several weeks before Christmas, followed by biscuits, gingerbread cookies and lastly, tarts.
The secret to Lorezia’s irresistable tarts is her homemade pineapple jam.
“Tarts are prepared last so we can serve the pastry as fresh as possible. Though the process of making tarts is time consuming, the work is delegated among us. One person rolls and cuts out the pastry while another person fills the jam. Nimarta helps to pack them neatly in air-tight containers,” explains Lorezia who has three sons.
Nimarta is happy to have her mother over during the Christmas season.
“Since I have married into a Catholic family, Mum makes it a point to join in our Christmas celebrations. She loves being with my extended family. I am blessed that Mum gets along well with my mother-in-law. Each year, Mum also makes it a point to buy Indonesian Christmas decorative items for my mother-in-law and me.”
Besides Christmas cookies and cakes, Lorezia is slowly teaching Nimarta to prepare the family’s must-have Christmas dishes.
“My mother-in-law’s signature Christmas items include devil curry, oxtail soup, roast turkey and Eurasian beef smore. She hopes I can learn these recipes and prepare them for my husband Nigel,” says Nimarta, who has a three-year-old son, Jacob Adrian Perera.
Nimarta feels the festive spirit during Advent, which is from Dec 2-24. It is observed by Christians to prepare for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus Christ.
“We put up the Christmas tree on the first week of Advent. I love listening to Christmas carols and sipping hot tea while we decorate the tree.
“On the second week, we visit the malls for gifts. On the third and fourth week, we head to my mother-in-law’s house to start preparing cakes and cookies,” says Nimarta, who also helps to put up Christmas decorations in her in-laws’ house.
Nimarta grew up in Indonesia in a community of different religions and beliefs. Her parents have always encouraged her to respect other races without looking at colour or creed. In Jakarta, she mixed with friends of different religions like Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.
“Since young, Christmas has always been one of my favourite festivals. Christmas is a time of giving, getting together and merrymaking. But now that I am married, I get to celebrate Christmas as a family tradition,” says Nimarta, a homemaker.
Nimarta feels blessed because her in-laws have embraced her with open arms.
“They treat me like their own daughter. On Vaisakhi, my mother-in-law prepares Punjabi dishes to ensure I feel a little less homesick.
“It means a lot to me that they take extra efforts as I adjust to an interfaith family,” says Nimarta, the youngest of two siblings.
Last week, Nimarta’s older brother, Brij Singh, his wife and two children arrived in KL to celebrate Christmas with Nimarta and her extended family.
For Nimarta, having her entire family over is her biggest Christmas present.
“Having loved ones together for Christmas is priceless. There’s nothing more meaningful than having my family members from Indonesia and my in-laws around me during the festive period,” says Nimarta, adding they will all celebrate Christmas at her in-law’s home.
Through these gatherings, her family members learn more about the Christian faith and traditions.
“On Christmas Day, my family members exchange gifts with my in laws, help entertain guests and attending midnight mass. Spending Christmas with the family truly encompasses the meaning of the holiday season which is about love, peace and happiness.”
Next year, Lorezia and her family will be in Jakarta to celebrate Vaisakhi with Nimarta’s family.
Manjeet will be teaching Lorezia how to prepare Punjabhi delicacies like aloo paratha (bread with potato stuffing), kheer (rice pudding) and dhal. They will be sipping piping hot masala tea together as they prepare for the festivities.
Also read: Going the extra mile for Christmas