Christmas is a time of celebration, holiday cheer and snow, but for U.S Marine Sergeant Christopher Eves, now of Marlinton, the Christmases of his youth looked a little different than what one might expect.
Eves and his family spent the first years of his life in England, where the holidays were celebrated in a similar fashion to a traditional American Christmas. Halls were dressed in boughs of holly, a decorated tree stood center stage and snow coated the ground as family members gathered to share a small holiday feast.
Following his father’s decision to transfer from the British army to the Australian army, the Eves relocated to an area surrounding Brisbane, Australia in 1990. There they faced a shift in the seasons.
Unlike the seasons of the northern hemisphere, Australia enjoys summer months while the northern hemisphere is going into the fall and winter months. Typically, the schools in Australia break for the summer around mid-December and return to school in late January, so Christmas falls into the middle of the long holiday break.
“Our very first Christmas in Australia, we did a big roast dinner,” Eves recalled. “Everyone was sitting around the table – and it was a happy family time – but it was sweltering hot. We were miserable.
“I can remember going to the shopping malls and seeing all the Santa Clauses. They were dressed in the full outfit, and you could tell they were miserable. You could see them sweating through their costumes.”
Taking their first Christmas in Australia into consideration, Eves and his family adjusted their celebrations to fit Australia’s heat in the following years.
“I always loved Christmas in the summer,” he said. “We would wake up and do your traditional Christmas morning festivities, and then we’d meet up with friends and head down to the beach for the day.
“It’s normally so hot down there, so rather than doing a big roast, we started grilling and eating more summer-type foods, such as salads and seafood. After we ate, we went swimming in the ocean, and sometimes we would go camping. Christmas outdoors is great.”
In addition to the United Kingdom and Australia, Eves has spent a number of Christmases in Hanover, Germany, Japan, Malyasia and Port Moresby, New Guinea, where his father was stationed for a number of years as part of an exchange between the Australian Army and the New Guinea Defense Force.
Between their close proximities, Eves and his family often returned to Australia to celebrate Christmas. However, the family did spent one Christmas in Port Moresby.
“Like most South Pacific countries, they have very strong Christian values,” he said. “It’s actually quite traditional, but not like something you’d see around here. Generally, it’s not a particularly wealthy country, so people have to make do with what they have.”
His mother’s Malaysian culture added another Christmas experience for Eves, as well.
“My mother is Malaysian,” he said, “and she grew up Catholic, so it’s been an interesting clash of cultures – the old traditions, the Malay traditions, their way of life and the way she lived. With the Malay tradition, sometimes you have four or five families living in a big, huge house in the village, but they won’t do things like Christmas trees. That’s more of a northern hemisphere tradition.
“They still celebrate the Christian holiday that is Christmas, but they do it in their own way. With my mother’s family, the older members in the family – the ones who are unable to travel as much – will set up a big feast in the house, and the younger family members will travel to each house.”
Eves went on to explain that, whenever Malaysian families – sometimes as large as 40 or 60 people – get together to celebrate, all of the furniture is moved out of the biggest room in the house. The food is placed in the middle of the floor, and the family sits in a circle around the outer area of the room.
“If a family lives close together, you try and arrange it so that everyone gets together at the house with the biggest room,” Eves added. “If not, you’ll travel to two, sometimes three, households in order to visit the elder people in the family. No matter where you go, there will be family sitting on the floor, eating, passing around different kinds of home-brewed rice wine and talking.
“With me not knowing very much Malay and a lot of them not speaking very much English, it’s interesting to try and work the communication barriers out and figure out how we’re related.”
More recently, Eves has been spending Christmas in the United States with his wife, Sarah [Perry], and their daughter, Kya.
“We’ve spent the past few Christmases in California,” Sarah said, “and we’ve had all the single Marines and sailors over, so we’ve been cooking for around thirty people. This is going to be different for [Kya] this year because she won’t have thirty uncles coming over.”
Eves hopes that he will be able to share his variety of Christmas celebrations with Sarah and Kya in the coming years.
“We’re an amalgamation of different cultures,” he said, “so there’s not a lot of traditions we can do here that I did in Australia and Malaysia. At some point in her life, I would like to have a Christmas in Malaysia so Kya can see what that’s all about and see her family – see her roots because that’s a whole huge family that I don’t reckon she’s fully aware of yet. I would like for her to experience that, and I’d like for Sarah to see that, as well.
“It’s very unlikely that Kya will have two Christmases that are ever the same in her life, but that’s okay. I think that’s pretty cool.”