Whenever Michelle-Ann Iking organises her Christmas Eve dinner, she is thankful that her in-laws are very much part of the celebrations.
When Iking married her husband Kishore Suppiah, her in-laws joined her in continuing her Christmas traditions.
Her sisters-in-law, Geetha and Chitra, bring steamed fruit cakes, cupcakes, cookies and jams. Her mother-in-law, Nancy David, offers family favourites like spicy prawn sambal, eggplant yoghurt salad and mouth-watering curries.
Kai Vello Suppiah, her father-in-law, helps to decorate the tree and wrap gifts.
Iking says December is her favourite time of the year because there are so many family celebrations apart from Christmas – birthdays of her father-in-law, mother-in-law and her husband, as well as her wedding anniversary.
“Most of my family members who celebrate Christmas are in Sabah and I will often fly them into KL just after the New Year to celebrate my daughter Lara Anoushka’s birthday with us. I am blessed that I am so close to my in-laws and everyone looks forward to the Christmas festive season,” says Iking, 42, who heads a talent, learning and performance management team in a financial institution.
Like most festivals, Christmas is a time when families get together to catch up, savour good food and exchange gifts. Since Iking’s relatives are mostly in Sabah, her in-laws step in to assist her with Christmas preparations.
Iking, a Kadazan, is always touched her that her in-laws go the extra mile to ensure her Christmas Eve dinner is sumptuous and merry. She usually hosts between 20 and 30 guests for dinner.
“Chitra and Geetha are always ever willing to help out, be it running last minute errands or cooking extra dishes for Christmas Eve dinner. The same goes for my parents-in-law too. They help with keeping the grandkids occupied while we decorate the home and set the dinner table.”
Although Iking and Kishore practise different faiths, they embrace Christian and Hindu festivities enthusiastically.
Kishore, 37, comes from a family of different faiths too.
His father is Hindu and his mother Catholic. He grew up in a family that never missed any religious celebrations, including Deepavali, Christmas, Easter and Navarathi.
“When my sister and I were younger, my parents instilled in us the importance of respecting different religions. We observed different festivities.
“When I married Michelle-Ann, it seemed like a natural progression to continue these celebrations,” says Kishore, head of digital ancillaries and merchandising at an airline company.
Nancy, 69, says being in an inter-faith family has taught her husband and her to embrace religions and traditions with an open heart.
“During Deepavali, we follow rituals like an oil bath in the morning, temple prayers and blessings by elders. This is followed by an open house at our home.
“On Christmas Day, my husband ensures the family attends mass and partake in gift exchange and merrymaking,” says Nancy, adding her husband has been attending the St Anne’s pilgrimage in Bukit Mertajam in Penang for four decades.
For Christmas Eve dinner, Iking prepares her mother’s black pepper lamb. She follows a Kadazan method of cooking method called pinasakan where the meat is braised. She also prepares side dishes of sweet potato mash, caramelised vegetables and ensures everything is laid out as a feast for the eyes and stomach.
“Our Christmas is a muhibbah one, featuring dishes that are the best of different worlds – Indian, Kadazan-style and Western. I will make sure we have the staple dishes, and Geetha will supply cakes and desserts.
“We have a list of family favourites from my mum-in-law. When Chitra, who is based in Perth, Australia, is in town, we will have her steamed fruit cake and crunchy noodle salad. “If we are especially lucky, there will be some traditional Kadazan rice wine lihing to add to the festivities.”
And with her in-laws’ caring and loving presence, Iking feels less homesick nearing the Yuletide season.
She is happy to maintain the spirit of family togetherness. Christmas is all about family and maintaining traditions are important.
“Through celebrating festivities like Easter and Christmas, Deepavali and Thaipusam together, we all get to observe the commonalities of love and care for family, faith in a higher power and traditions that bring loved ones together.
“Plus, it adds more colour and adds to the festivities when we celebrate it together,” says Iking.
Also read: Family: The greatest Christmas gift of all