My Christmas Story and Holiday Blues

A holiday is supposed to be the season to be joyful and celebratory but not everyone is happy during this festive season. To some, a holiday is a reminder of a happy past that can never happen again. I grew up in an era when holidays were something that we look forward to. Unofficially in the Philippines, the Yuletide season begins in September. Therefore, the running joke on Jose Mari Chan’s Christmas songs being played on the first day of September would probably not get old.

As a child, I used to wonder what to ask Santa for Christmas. During my age of innocence, I did not make a big deal out of my mother’s spontaneous questions about what gift would I like to receive from Santa. Of course, it would make sense to me later that the reason why she asked was because they (my parents) were the ones playing Santa. I believed in that magic until puberty hit me–I found myself asking questions why the gifts that we received looked like the ones that were available at the mall. I kept quiet about the Santa thing so that my younger brother could still experience the magic. When I was 12 years old, Santa “told” my parents that that would be the last gift that I would receive from him.

Gift-giving was something that had become a tradition in our house. I guess it was the reason why I did not feel deprived of gifts even when the truth came out that Santa was not real. There were gifts from our relatives in the form of cash and goods. The Yuletide ambiance was kinder, more loving, and more magical with the presence of traditional decorations like Christmas lights and Christmas trees.

It was a must to celebrate Noche Buena with the family. As a young child, I did not appreciate it because I would rather spend my time sleeping but it was my father’s rule to wake up for Noche Buena. My family was not the pious type, we just wanted to celebrate Christmas as a tradition. In fact, I attended my first “Simbang Gabi” when I was already in college. But as a family, there were times when we attended the Christmas mass before heading to my grandmother’s house for the celebration.

Our Christmas lunch was attended by my mother’s relatives. Kare-kare was a staple menu in lunch along with grilled chicken, barbecue, and grilled fish. Our last Christmas lunch celebration with my mother’s relatives was probably sometime in 2004. The following year, my grandmother passed and that was the start of the gradual changes in terms of how we celebrated the Christmas lunch.

From 2005 to 2008, we celebrated Christmas in the confines of our home. The first Christmas without my grandmother was lonely but we avoided the topic to focus more on being happy. In 2008, it was the last Christmas celebration with my mother and coincidentally, my last Christmas, too before I changed my religion. If the changes in terms of Christmas celebration were gradual when my grandmother passed, it was the opposite when I lost my mother. Her demise was a huge blow to each and every one of us in the family—we were just too stressed out how to live our lives without her.

For a time, I think that I hung on to my religion to justify my non-celebration of Christmas. But years later, I realized that the deeper reason why I avoided Christmas was because it reminded me of the happy years that I had with the ones that were no longer with me—it was a case of the holiday blues.

Emotionally speaking, I am now in a better place than the previous years. I still don’t celebrate Christmas because of my new religious belief but I can now look back to the happy times without feeling bad about the present. I fully understand that CHANGE is really constant and those who could not adapt to it would find it hard to survive. In the case of my brothers who are still celebrating Christmas, I think that they came to realize that the old tradition must retire for a new one to start. My brothers could start their own family tradition that would leave happy memories to their children.