Posted by: Carolyn ODonnell | December 23, 2013

Christmas: Baby, there’s a cake outside

Cocktails: The best way not to have a hot and itchy Christmas. Or even avoid it altogether

Cocktails: The best way to get through a hot and itchy Christmas. Or even avoid it altogether

Christmas is a strange thing in the non-Christian Tropics. But even in Malaysia, there is no escaping Yuletide festivities. There are carols in the supermarket, tinsel-covered trees in malls, and even Burka-clad women are liable, for no reason, to suddenly start singing Jingle Bells.

This year I am spending Christmas Day in Penang with friends, cooking, eating and drinking (not necessarily in that order). Other Christmases have been spent in various places, including South Africa, Italy and Nepal. I have various memories of Christmases in Australia too. Eating seafood with friends in someone’s backyard (good). Being anywhere near my depressed, alcoholic, neurotic relatives (bad).

One year my sister “did” Christmas at her house and her cross was heavy that day. She envisaged a Mediterranean buffet, which I’m sure featured olives and sun-dried tomatoes and plenty of sliced deli goods on plates, and she embarked on a meltdown because it wouldn’t be ready at 1pm.

“It’s OK,” I said. “No one will die or go to jail. Don’t say anything and they’ll think it was ready when it was meant to be ready.”

“You don’t care about this family!” she screamed, and went off to cry somewhere.

The guests didn’t care; they had salty snacks, strong vodka tonics and padded furniture. They really didn’t give a shit if they had to wait another 15 minutes for cous cous and festive Pinot Grigio.

It was a very contemporary Christmas menu-wise, and the guests were a bit post-modern too. My sister’s current amour was there, along with the father of her child plus girlfriend, and his mother who was perpetually on the search for “something tasty and delicious”. (It remained to be seen what she thought of grilled vegetable salad.) Then there was the amour‘s ex-wife, who came in from next door with her new husband, a grandmother and her Valium, a father who got drunk and fell asleep in the corner, and a mother who was collected by some man friend to go to a “dinner-dance”, which sounded a bit 1975, but no one could be bothered arguing about it.

Later, my sister had recovered sufficiently from the trauma of feeding people to go down the street to a party where the hosts served nothing but candy and alcohol. As far as my family went, that was a good day.

Christmas in London tended to noted by the increased consumption of mince pies and booze. At one cocktail party, the talk naturally turned to family hatred during the holidays.

‘Oh yes, I want to kill my family,’ laughed Jens, the Danish florist. ‘But at Christmas we drink a lot and light candles and that’s nice.’

“Nothing depresses me more than seeing my family at Christmas,” I said.”The whole things is such a waste of energy. And I really hate my mother.”

“I don’t hate my mother, she’s the only I like,” Jens replied.

“At least you like someone.”

“It’s just too much, there’s this endless discussion about who’s doing what,” sighed Matthew, who had a full-time job and was writing a Master’s thesis in psychology. “My mother rings me in a panic saying, ‘Aunty Doris is making  a pudding,  but there’s no cake yet’,” he sighed. “I mean who cares? Except Michael. He’ s decided to make a cake and he has it on a strict feeding schedule and it’s taking over our lives. It’s become the child in our relationship.”

“Feeding it with what?” asked a puzzled Jens.

“No idea. Brandy?”

Well I had a story about cakes.

“I knew someone at college who fed a cake. He kept it in a plastic tub and gave it bits of fish and things he stole from dinner. It was kind of mouldy.”

Ignoring the looks of disgust, dismay and concern I continued. “When he wanted to torment the cake he’d drop a few blobs of antibiotic cream on it.”

Matthew grimaced. “That is the weirdest thing I ever heard.”

“But if dinner was shite you could always look forward to seeing how the cake would handle it.”

Jens looked a bit worried, I don’t think they do that kind of thing in Denmark. Too busy eating herring.

Anyway, may your Christmas be free of psychosis, and amply filled with co-operative cakes, meals and bottles. Ho, ho HO.

Christmas 2012 in central India. Not hot and itchy here, as about to freeze to death

Christmas 2012 in central India. Not hot and itchy here, as about to freeze to death


  1. Enjoying your writing Caroline and the Xmas one is so true – try a Muslim Xmas, there is a wonderful absence of glitter and snow, apart from real snow – and no hype, most people work! Just back from a lovely Xmas with friends in the Mallorcan hills and back to work here in Istanbul! Great writing, have a great New Year too!

    • Thanks Carol. You are in Istanbul now? By a Muslim Christmas, do you mean one in an Islamic country? If so, then that is what I had. The religious part is not important, but the tinsel, the songs, an excuse to eat too much – everyone is into that. But at least the country doesn’t shut down like it does at the end of Ramadan. What are you doing in Istanbul?

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