Picture Daze # 8 - Christmas Trees?


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Growing up Catholic in a Muslim country was really no big deal at all... at least not for me. When I grew up in Malaysia respect and understanding for people of other faiths was a matter of fact. Muslims, Hindus, Taoist, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians were fervent in their faiths, cultures and traditions and respected each other for theirs.
I have to credit my mother for initiating the Christmas decorations at our home. We were one of 2 Catholic families living on our street. So when the Christmas season came along she would setup the Christmas Tree project among the neighborhood kids. This meant that we were all decorating the tree together. It didn't matter what faith you were.

Over the years this event became quite the neighborhood tradition. Usually on the week of about the 12th of December the house would be filled with neighbor kids all working on the tree. The excitement and anticipation on "tree day" was only surpassed by Christmas Eve.


In my memory there was only 1 traditional tree that ever graced our home. Mum was quite the crafty person so ideas for the Christmas tree was always a little outside of the norm.

In the picture above Mum was inspired by the a Winter scene with leafless branches. So, a branch of a Guava tree was cut, sprayed white and decorated. Looking back I have to admit that there was a certain elegance in it's starkness.

One year we scrapped the idea of a tree altogether and went with a cotton snowman instead. It was cute and all but not a particular favorite of mine. I guess I was ready for a new motif and it came the following year.

When I was 8 or 9 she totally scrapped the idea that the Christmas tree should have anything to do with Winter. She had a point because we did live in the tropics. That year, bamboo was sprayed silver and served up as the central ornament representing Christmas. I have to say that Mum's idea of going "local" had quite the stunning effect. So much so, we repeated the same idea the following year (this time in gold) and the results were breathtaking.

The usual neighborhood "Christmas Tree Crew" had by now dwindled to a stalwart 4 or 5. They included my neighborhood buddies including Tambi, Ganeshen, Balan and yours truly. We would begin at 3 PM and 5 or 6 hours later step back to admire the results. Relatives and friends had by now come to expect to see something different at our home for Christmas... and they usually did. Sometimes a little more different than they were ready for... more on that later.

By the time I was 12 I had taken over "creative control" of the tree decorating duties. One year I decided that 3 "payongs" (paper umbrellas), opened in 3 different stages would make up the tree. Here are a couple of pictures of said tree... one without lights and the other one lit.

At this point I guess I should explain how we celebrated Christmas. Christmas Eve was always my day. When I was younger the neighborhood kids would all come by and each of them received a present from my parents. Nothing fancy... usually a little toy or trinklet of sorts. After all, during Chinese New Year all us kids got "ang pows" (little red packets of money) from the parents of our Chinese friends. So in the big scheme of things us kids always scored "big time" during all the major festivals celebrated in the country.

When I grew older, my "crew" (now about 15-20) came by on the evening of Christmas Eve. By 10 PM we would walk about 5 blocks the local church for Midnight Mass. I went out of religious obligation... my non-Christian friends went to check out the girls. (O.K. I did too but don't tell my Mum.) We would be back home by 1 AM for the Christmas feast prepared by her. The menu always included Eurasian Chicken Pie, Devil Curry, Curry Puffs, Sebak (a sort of Eurasian salad), Pineapple Tarts and Sugee Cake . Then games would be set up at various areas of the house. Once we were tired from playing carrom, monopoly or blackjack we would all stretch out on the floor and fall asleep... usually by 4 or 5 AM.

By 9 or 10 the next morning everybody would get up and straighten out the house. Usually 3 of my crew would stay. The reason for this was simple... Christmas Day was when my parents had their friends and workmates over, so my friends and me became the "waiters" for their do. This practice continued even after my Dad passed away when I was 12.
I posted the picture of the "horn" or "saipan" hat above only because I couldn't find a picture of the Christmas tree I made by stringing 4 of them together one year. That was one of my all time favorites.

This tree made of halved coconut shells on a rattan tree was the second last one I designed back home. By this time we had moved to the new house. Mum had retired from government service and we had to leave the old neighborhood behind.

Yet, Ganeshen and Balan would still come by to help set up the Christmas decorations for Mum even after I left for the US. Mum delighted in their company and the fact that the little tradition she started with the neighborhood kids kept going into their middle age. They continued to visit every year to help decorate until Mum finally moved here to join me 7 years ago. We still hear from them at Christmas. It is this sharing of the season with my friends that I now miss the most... but times and places are different. The memories stay and we move on.

I'll end with this picture of the very last (and most controvertial) Christmas Tree I designed and created in Malaysia before I moved here in 1980. Yes, it is constructed out of panties! This particular tree over the years has become legend and is now part of the lore among friends and family back home.

Our Christmas is celebrated quietly now. I decorate the mantle over the fireplace in the living room... no trees. However, I make sure that the Devil Curry and/or the Eurasian Chicken Pie is still on the table for Christmas dinner. And now, it is I who does the cooking.



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26 Responses to “Picture Daze # 8 - Christmas Trees?”

  1. Blogger Sasha 

    you were raised a Catholic? me too!! but the philippines is predominantly Catholic anyways.

    i think i liked that last tree the most. cool and creative.

    oh yeah. team philippines did kick ass in the SEA Games, and ran off as champions this year! :)

  2. Blogger lecram sinun 

    sasha - very cool on the SEA Games and team Philipines kicking ass!

    I thought you'd like that last tree! LOL!

  3. Blogger MamaKBear 

    All of your trees over the years have been so unique and interesting! I really enjoyed reading this post and the stories of your Christmases past. :)

  4. Blogger Foxglove 

    wow. you always have the best stories with the best narratives. that's why nobody else writes anything good-- you've stolen all the creativity....

  5. Blogger Lelly 

    Great post, Cuz...love reading your Picture Daze!

  6. Blogger Lelly 

    Oh...and glad you've left your word verification off too! (so have I)

  7. Blogger KFarmer 

    what lovely sentiments...

  8. Blogger aughra 

    Wonderful. I love the Payong tree. And, of course, the panty tree!

    Thanks for letting me know that this was up...

  9. Blogger lime 

    what a wonderful post! what a beautiful tradition your mom started and how wonderful the memories are that go with all those wildly creative trees! thanks so much for sharing!

  10. Blogger Maverick 

    neat X-Mas trees! cool ideas.

    respect and understanding for people of other faiths was a matter of fact.

    Wow, what a wonderful world that must have been. Here, I'm fighting with the damn Christians over whether numerous stores should use Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. AFA (American Family Assoc. is not happy with holidays, it's insulting that stores would be inclusive)


    Spitting in a Wishing Well

  11. Blogger lecram sinun 

    mamakbear - they were a little funky... but we liked them. Thanks and Happy Birthday!

    foxglove - you flatter me! ::blush:: Glad you enjoyed it.

    lelly - I guess this is part and parcel of us catching up, huh? :)

    kfarmer - :)

    lime - glad you enjoyed the story and my memories. Yup, some of those trees were pretty darn wacky.

    stacie - Personally I think that this whole situation (Holiday vs Christmas) is only illuminates insecurity over their own faith. (Does anyone realize that the word "holiday" is derived from "Holy Day"?)

  12. Blogger lecram sinun 

    aughra - I love the payong tree as well... and the panty tree goes without saying! :) I figured you'd want to know when I had a new one up. It's been a while and you seemed to have enjoyed the past editions.

  13. Blogger airplanejayne 

    (as usual), great stories!

  14. Blogger lecram sinun 

    apj - Thanks. BTW... it was fun shopping yesterday!

  15. Blogger snavy 

    Such a wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing! I've been having a very hard time getting into the spirit this year but this post really cheered me up! Thank you!

  16. Blogger Rose-Colored Beer Goggles 

    What a creative bunch! Trees like the bamboo, the hats, or the umbrellas would sell like hotcakes these days. But I guess it wouldn't be the same. It'd be trendy, while what you & your family & friends did is tradition. Great Daze :o)

  17. Blogger lecram sinun 

    snavylyn - glad it perked you up! :)

    Rose-Colored Beer Goggles - it wouldn't be the same... yet the moolah would be nice. lol!

  18. Blogger Generik 

    That essay warmed my heart. Thank you so much for alerting me to it. The pictures evoke such poignant and amusing scenes... you really illustrate both the differences and the similarities of the holiday season here and in your homeland very well.

    And the panty tree is a riot! I hope the story of that never dies, but is carried down through the generations of your family forever. (The umbrella tree was quite clever also.)

  19. Blogger Rose-Colored Beer Goggles 

    When my Pablo saw the panty tree, he broke into "Thong, thong-thong, thong" sung to the tune of "Carole of the Bells." Might've had to be there ;o)

  20. Blogger lecram sinun 

    generik - my friends here have heard about that tree (mostly from my Mum) and now there is photographic evidence. Thanks for dropping by, :)

    Rose-Colored Beer Goggles - LMAO! I wouldn't have thought of that!

  21. Blogger Ms Bees Knees 

    wow... i feel totally inspired. maybe i'll build a "vodka and pills" tree this year. LOL! thanks for sharing hon, as always you're amazing!

  22. Blogger lecram sinun 

    ms.bees - a "vodka and pills" tree, huh? Will you be using the bottles of vodka... or just the vodka itself? I'f it's the bottles... can I be there to empty them?

  23. Blogger Heather 

    Lecram, I totally loved this post. It was so moving. The love your family and neighbors shared, despite religious differences is so inspiring. And the creativity is amazing! You really warmed my heart as well.

  24. Blogger whackman 

    It was amazing to see the pics of all your trees of christmas' past.
    I remember a bamboo one and an umbrella one and of course the legendary panty tree. Your christmas trees rocked!

  25. Blogger whackman 

    Huh? I actually figured out how to leave a comment on you post with my blog name on it.This is is a pivotal moment in my life (oh no not another one!)Btw it is I, your Luddite pal in Malaysia,My blog page is totally underdeveloped(so far it is just a page) so don't check it out yet

  26. Anonymous Tony 

    Hi Marce

    I remember your house and your mum and of the years when the eagle scouts came to visit - bearing good wishes and a ravenous teenage appetite . I remember and (loved)the decorative bottles your mother made and the house but can't remember the street.
    take care brother


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