A pavlova is a meringue-based dessert topped with seasonal fruits. Photo: Taste, Australia
My earliest memory of Christmas is decorating our plastic Christmas tree with patches of cotton with mum. I never understood why we did that until I watched Home Alone on TV and saw the white Christmas trees, their boughs heavy with snow.
Despite the temperature never going below 15 degrees in Mumbai, shopkeepers, parents and teachers alike insisted that snow was synonymous to Christmas, and the carol, ‘It’s feeling like a White Christmas’ was a regular feature at school functions. So, while it never snowed in Mumbai, the white Christmas dream was easy to believe in.
That's until I moved to New Zealand. Here, Christmas comes at the height of summer and watching Macaulay Culkin of Home Alone tromping about the snow is not much fun when all you want to do is inhale a tub of ice-cream.
At first I resented this complete reversal of my 'White Christmas' fantasy. But it got harder to make pretend snow angels in the backyard with the sun shining down on my face, and weird sipping on eggnog when summer cocktails on the beach beckon. And, so I succumbed into the kiwi definition of Christmas.
When the world would be soaking fruit for making a rich rum cake, I'd be hunting recipes for a Pavlova - arguably New Zealand's greatest contribution to the world of patisserie. Each Christmas, I'd bake the family a Pavlova from a different recipe book and it's taken more than six years of festivities to finally be able to bake the perfect Pavlova. I like mine laden with summer fruits, and I also add some cardamom and nutmeg into the meringue to give it that Parsi touch.
As if that's not enough, our Christmas meal had a complete makeover too. We went from planning menus of meat-laden pulaos finished off with the Parsi winter specialty, Vasanu to making cool summer salads and marinating meats for a summer barbecue. The kiwis take their barbecues really seriously, and my favourite Christmas memory is of a gang of friends and me taking almost 20 kg of meat to the Coromandel Coast, and having a feast at the coin operated beach barbecue followed by a dip at Cathedral Cove.
Barbecues and baking aside, the biggest change has been our Christmas tree tradition. Sure, for the first two years after we moved, mum persisted in layering our tree with cotton. But, that ended when we saw the Pohutukawa in bloom for the first time!
Famed to be the Christmas tree of New Zealand, the native Pohutukawa is a sight to behold when it is in full bloom, and the tree becomes dotted with tiny red flowers. So impressed was I by the sight that we got our own Pohutukawa seven years ago at a garden clearance sale. And, every year since then I waited for the tree to turn red with blooms only to be left disappointed when another set of leaves appear.
The Christmas I celebrated a couple years ago was then my most poignant yet. All set, as I was to move back to the land of cotton-laden Christmas trees, a few tears spilled over into my Pavlova mix at the thought of not seeing mum for an entire year.
As I turned to the sink to mop up my face, I spotted it. A single red flower on my backyard Pohutukawa. The perfect Christmas gift, a sign of all the happy memories associated with my not-so-white Christmases.