For the Tan clan, Christmas is all about family.
“Before the movement control order, we’d always get together for a meal every week, as well as on special occasions such as birthdays, Father’s and Mother’s day, Christmas, Easter and Chinese New Year, ” says clan patriarch Tan Jooi Long.
And for the past 15-20 years, Christmas celebrations have always been big – often with more than 30 people attending, including extended family members – and held at their home. But this is the first year that they won’t be hosting such a huge gathering because it’s against the standard operating procedures (SOP) of the conditional MCO, he says.
“This Christmas, it’ll be just our immediate family of nine, including my grandson Seth (who’s studying in England) on Zoom, ” he adds.
Tan and his wife, Mary-Joy Khoo, both 72, have a daughter and son (Kate and Ike), two granddaughters and a grandson.
To matriarch Khoo, Christmas is “a time of love, sharing and forgiving”.
"On Christmas day, my two brothers (from Ipoh and Singapore) and their families will usually come over to our home, and we’ll have a joyful and meaningful time together. It’s a time of bonding, reconciliation and forgiveness over any little disagreements we may have had during the past year," she says.
“Family is everything,” she adds.
But this year, Khoo’s brothers won’t be visiting.
“It’s safer to stay home even though the state borders are open. We’ll just be having a Christmas meal with our immediate family at our daughter’s place,” says Khoo.
The Tans will also be attending Christmas church service online because they feel that is a safer option at this point of time.
Of course, their Christmas do wouldn’t be complete without Kate’s dog Mercy, who is a favourite of Ike’s two daughters, Faith, 19, and Hope, 14.
“So we’re having Faith, Hope and Mercy at Christmas!” exclaims Tan as the rest laugh and nod in agreement.
A time to reflect
For Ike and his wife Jean Liew, both in their 40s, Christmas is a time to wind down at the end of the year and reflect on the past 12 months, as they prepare for the new year.
2020 hasn’t been easy, but Ike feels that it’s important to “make the best of the situation”.
“We’re all in this together, not just as a family, but the whole country is facing the pandemic, so we just have to adapt and get used to the new normal,” he says.
“This year, we didn’t do our Christmas shopping the traditional way.
“Every year, we usually have a gift exchange and part of the fun is going out and trying to figure out what to buy for each family member,” says Ike.
“It’s fun going to the shopping centres, seeing the decorations, listening to the music – kind of like a family outing – but this year, our daughters have been buying things online instead,” he says.
His wife, Liew says that they also won’t be meeting up with church friends this year.
Every year, they attend Christmas service in church. But this year, they’re attending it online even though the government has recently announced that Christians in conditional and recovery MCO areas are allowed to attend church during Christmas.
Their two daughters are also looking on the bright side.
Faith says it’s a time to come together and spread the joy of giving.
“Even though the festivities have to be scaled down to just the immediate family, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It may be even more memorable and the important thing is that the family is together,” she says.
“It may be different as there’ll be fewer of us, but it’ll still be fun,” adds Hope.
First Christmas away
For Kate and her English husband, Colin Shillings, both in their 40s, Christmas isn’t so different from previous years because they “don’t really go out shopping or walk around in malls, but usually just buy everything online”.
Every year, the Kuala Lumpur-based couple, who are vegan, will host a plant-based Christmas meal for her parents and her brother’s family. They usually also meet up with vegan friends and animal rights activists.
But what will be different this year is that the couple will miss celebrating Christmas with their 19-year-old son Seth who has just started his first year of university in Loughborough, England.
“It’ll be his first Christmas away from home,” says Kate.
“If there wasn’t a pandemic, we’d go there and spend Christmas with him,” she adds.
The couple will usually visit Shillings’ family in England too.
“We usually go to England every year to see my family who live in Lincolnshire,” says Shillings.
Seth, who is staying in a student hall at his university, will be going to Manchester to spend the Christmas holidays with his friend-and-former classmate from Malaysia, Alfiq.
His other classmates (who are English) have all returned home for the year-end holidays.