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.


The Magical Feeling

joemariPhoto taken from web.

Because ber-month is less than a month away, I’d like to share the magical feeling of setting up a Christmas tree and adorning the house with Christmas decors. I was the one in charge of the decoration and I used to do it every last week of October. The 4-ft Christmas tree was located in a big box above the cabinet. No matter how heavy it was, my adrenaline rush was enough for me to bring it down alone. Our Christmas tree was an 80’s style tree with its bushy leaves, thus it appeared big and fat.

The original ornaments were a set of reindeers, Santa Clauses and bells of different sizes. When the 90’s came and with two young kids in the house, the ornaments were either broken or lost so I did a DIY that was made of red and gold ribbons. The original Christmas lights were blue and red and were later changed to white. The Christmas star was the last ornament that I put on and it was also a sign of relief because setting up that Christmas tree normally took me around two hours. Despite its height at only 4 ft, it was heavy. It stood on a coffee table that was 2.5 feet so the Christmas tree became a towering centerpiece at 6.5 feet.

In my eyes, our modest home turned into a beautiful castle every ber-monts of the year. There was something magical about Christmas that reminded me that it was a season of giving and forgiving. Ironically, I was not into the religious practice of Christmas and the only Christmas mass that I attended was that one in St. Joseph Church in Baguio City.

I grew up listening to Jose Mari Chan’s enchanting voice. I would hear more of his Christmas songs on the coming months. It would surely bring me back to happier times of  my childhood when my mother, grandmothers, aunts and uncles were still alive.

Christmas Memories

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

I belong to a religious group where Thanksgiving is celebrated instead of Christmas. For 31 years of my life, I used to celebrate Christmas with my family and childhood friends. I celebrated Christmas even if it’s just for socialization’s sake. What is so magical about Christmas? Isn’t it that the early pagans are the ones who first celebrated this supposedly holy occasion?

Ah, let me regress through the times that I celebrated Christmas with my family and friends.

The year was mid-80’s. I was in 3rd grade when I received a total of 700 pesos as Christmas gift. It was a big amount at that time. I was able to buy a new pair of Mighty Kid shoes because of that. It’s good to have generous relatives during Christmas. =)

When financial crisis hit our family in the late 80’s, I saw my mother’s worried face three weeks before Christmas. I overheard her talking with my father.

“Magpapasko na wala pang damit ang mga bata,” she said. (It’s about Christmas, the kids don’t have new clothes yet)

It was our hardest and poorest Christmas. Thank God, my father was able to get a commission a week before Christmas.

Early 90’s, when money flowed in like flashflood, was the first time that my brother and I got our first signature clothes and shoes. It was also the time when I realized that having signature items would not make me a bigger person especially if the people around me are not aware of what’s original or what’s fake. (Like hello, everyone can have fake LV’s but only a few can tell which is fake and which is not fake!)

My relatives from my mom’s side love to eat. We get together every Christmas and we just eat and eat and eat! Oh, I almost forgot that our family had Noche Buena.

My saddest Christmas was sometime in late 90’s when I pleaded hard to my daughter’s father to please stay with us and don’t go home yet to his parents in the province. It was so sad a Christmas that until now that I no longer celebrate it, I still feel that pain whenever I remember that day.

There was a time when an ex-lover and a current lover would race to give me a call at 12:00 AM or Noche Buena. I should be happy to have two men “fighting” over my attention and affection but the joy was superficial. Who wants to deal with an ex who could not move on and a current who competes with my ex?

Of course, pre and post-Christmas parties with my friends were one of the most memorable. My childhood friends are like my brothers and sisters; I can be my true self when I’m with them.

Christmas or should I say, December 25 would never be the same without my mother who passed away last May 2009. Generally, our home at the province will never be the same without her around. If there is one wish that God would give me, I would ask Him to tell my mother that her kare-kare is still the best. That her crema de fruta is what I can’t replicate. That her hundreds of godchildren appreciate her small tokens. That she doesn’t need to bother giving me Christmas presents. That she is still the BEST mother in the world.

*now I am crying*