Remembering our Christmases before Facebook | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

THE HOUSE on A.G. Tupaz Street, Laoag City


Our babies belong to generations that don’t know ‘party line,’

analog phones you dialed, or radios with antennae.


Toddlers instinctively swipe–they don’t know how to turn print pages. (See it on YouTube–‘A Magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work’).


While we cannot bring back these ‘antiques’ of technology of not so long ago, we can bring back memories of the heart.


Here was our Christmas–before social media.



Party line–busy!


By Thelma Sioson San Juan


IT WAS in college during Christmas break. I wasn’t old enough to get my driver’s license, but not too young either to know how to drive. Or I thought I knew how to drive.


After getting some stuff from the Dean’s office, I got into the car, and seeing the empty campus driveway so enticing, I told our family driver to hand over the wheel to me. I wanted to try—just experience—the second-hand Opel Coupe, the Christmas present to me from my folks who had reconditioned and fixed it up in our motor shop.


A SALTY CHRISTMAS: Alya (upper left) with nephews (clockwise from upper right) Kim,Martin, Tino and Karel

I loved that the car was small and compact enough. It felt good to be in the driver’s seat. I stepped on the gas, and, oh no, the car zoomed down the driveway. I failed to realize that the driveway sloped downward, that the car could accelerate down on it so one didn’t have to step on the gas. The more I stepped on the brakes, the faster the car zoomed down.


Out of control, my “new” Coupe slammed into the gate—in split seconds. Our driver wrestled the wheel from me, but not until I left an ugly dent on the gate and on the car. Our campus gate wore an unseemly twist.


The campus guard hauled me to the Dean’s office. I gave them trouble even during Christmas break, the assistant muttered under her breath—I was busy organizing protest rallies during class days, and just as busy wrecking campus gates during holiday break.


She tried calling up our house. Busy! Dial again. Beezy!


To cut the story short, the Dean’s office never got through our phone at home during the holidays. (Daddy didn’t have to go to the Dean’s office until after the holiday break. I got my Christmas reprieve before being “grounded,” yet again.)


Years after that, the rare times I passed by my alma mater, I’d throw a glance at the campus gate which, of course, no longer bore the dent. And I’d remember my Christmas driving.


Lessons from that Christmas: It pays to have a party line (this generation will never know); it pays to know when to accelerate and hit the gas, and when to step on the brakes—in life as well.



A social-media Scrooge’s Christmas


By Lito Zulueta


I AM not much into social media. I don’t have Facebook. The FB that goes by my name was made and is run by former students; the Twitter account I started using only to assist my coverage of the papal conclave last summer that elected Pope Francis; I have been Tweeting sparingly since then.

ALEX Vergara, with youngest brother Ronnie, a few years after his dadmade a surprise homecomingwith a silver Christmas tree (behind him) complete with Yuletide trimmings


But denying I am a social (media) animal may be perhaps an attempt at understatement considering that whether one likes it or not, one is inevitably drawn into the whirlwind of the mass media, the social media being just an aspect of the media world, like “Yolanda” sucking into its vortex everyone and everything that comes within her destructive tentacles. So, to discuss how was one’s Christmas before social media should not be an attempt to Balkanize the past from the present. They’re just one stream of consciousness, essentially undivided and singular, like the Balkans whose common denominator are blood and gore, and sound and fury, artificially muted by Tito’s short-lived Yugoslavia.


There’s no distinction between Christmas past and Christmas present; it’s just that the latter is messier, more chaotic, more lethal. And it’s not because the social media have widened one’s social network and social circle, and corollarily made one’s Christmas gift list longer; it is because like everything else about the mass media, the social media are saturated with advertisements and commercials, the not-so-hidden persuaders that drive people’s materialism and hedonism.


One can notice how commercialism has taken over the Christmas season when one considers, for example, how a soda brand has managed to meld its red logo with the red of Santa Claus (the portly, potbellied mass and mess representative of Western capitalist exploitation of a religious figure associated with the religious feast that is Christmas), and capitalizing on traditional Filipino family values, made its deadly soda the centerpiece of the Filipino family Christmas eve dinner. Its other commercials throughout the year have successfully insinuated its product to the Filipino family so that it has become, with the boob tube, the conversation piece, not to say the chief nutrition, of the family supper.


No wonder Filipinos have become notoriously a nation of obscene obesity.


Lest the soda company and its multinational advertising company think they’re being singled out, one must clarify that the same tack—exploit Christmas and family values for junk nutrition and capitalist profiteering—has been employed by other fast-food franchises, so that the bountiful Filipino Christmas dinner spread risks being taken over by junk-food.


So, there’s no fundamental difference between Christmas past and present. Christmas today is as materialistic as ever and, since social media have made advertising more ubiquitous and commercialism more flagrant, more fatal to the pockets and to the health.



Nothing like a handwritten Christmas card


By Gibbs Cadiz


“GREETING cards have all

been sent; the Christmas rush

is through…”


That song by the Carpenters is usually one of the very first carols to come blaring out of the radio once October rolls in, and Filipinos once again renew their months-long love affair with Christmas.


But how many of the young generation today on Facebook and Twitter have actually received a greeting card?


It’s one of those traditions that have gone the way of the dodo, no thanks to technology.


Those of us who grew up pre-social media remember how Christmas meant not just shopping for and wrapping gifts, but also heading to the Hallmark card section of, say, National Book Store, and picking out greeting cards specifically for Mom, Dad, siblings and grandparents.


Receiving Christmas cards, especially those sent from far away by relatives and friends, brought a special feeling. You knew that the sender took time to buy the card, scribble a personal note and head to the post office to mail it.


Greetings in one’s personal handwriting meant that the sentiments were more personal, more heartfelt—and you just had to keep the card in your stash of memorabilia, not to be thrown away unlike wrappers and used buntings, because they represented true affection between you and the thoughtful sender.


Technology changed all that with the introduction of e-cards you e-mailed to friends and loved ones with the click of a mouse. They were faster, of course, the designs just as snazzy or even more (sometimes with built-in music, moving pictures, literal bells and whistles) and, in many cases, you just had to pick from pre-fabricated messages. Voila, a Christmas card!


I still miss the old paper-and-ink variety, though. Facebook and Twitter serve up the illusion that people are closer and more connected to each other than ever. Those old-fashioned greeting cards were, I think, a better indicator of that. You sent only a few of them—to the closest, most important people in your life.


On social media, with hundreds of even thousands of “friends” in your thread, everyone will partake of the Christmas meme you share. Mass greetings are fine—but they won’t ever substitute for the personalized, handwritten one.



When Christmas was blue


By Alya B. Honasan


BEFORE social media and selfies, before all our friends knew what we were doing at every minute, no matter where we were, Christmas in my family meant checking out of the socials and going away.


Before my father died, we holed up in our Tagaytay home—now long gone, replaced by a motel, last I saw—and did nothing but talk, lie around and munch. We could actually build a fire, it was that cold, and my sister-in-law would make a very early version of Caesar’s Salad, upon Dad’s request.


Years later, with the grandkids grown, the epicenter shifted to the home of my eldest nephew, my kuya’s eldest son and de facto patriarch-in-training Kim, in Davao City. It helped that he has a phenomenal cook, but it helped even more that we were a hop and a skip away from the sea.


Yes, even in the middle of the holiday season, the sun shone and the water got warm enough for us to take a banca out on Christmas day. The younger ones (yours truly still included—being the youngest child, I was older than Kim by only 10 years) would snorkel or dive, while the elders hung out on the boat or, being too lazy, would talk, eat and doze off on the beach.


That’s why, in the printed (read: non-digital) photographs from my pre-FB Christmases past, the dress code was bathing suits, wetsuits, sunglasses and floppy hats, and the color of the season was often a wonderful, happy kind of

Welcome breakfast of longganiza and chopped fresh tomatoes

blue—ocean blue.



From Matchboxes to Edsa


By Pocholo Concepcion


TWO CHRISTMASES stand out in my memory.


I was in grade school in December 1972 when I wrote a letter to Santa Claus asking for a Matchbox car—a popular toy brand, aside from Hot Wheels, that classmates loved to play with.


In the wee hours of Dec. 25 I was astonished to find a blue Matchbox Maserati Bora model under the family Christmas tree. I marveled at the power of writing.


On most Christmas days, Dad would take me to see my ninong and ninang without the need to inform them. We didn’t have a telephone then; besides, they would usually be in their own homes entertaining relatives and other inaanak.


Fresh out of college in December 1985, my ears were glued to the radio to keep track of Cory Aquino’s coming rally at the Luneta. I attended that rally, wearing a cut-off yellow T-shirt, on the back of which I wrote, “F*** Marcos, Ver…” and everyone else suspected of having a hand in killing Ninoy Aquino. I don’t remember feeling joyful that Christmas.


But two months later, in February 1986, it felt like the greatest Christmas the country has ever had. I, with the throng massed at Edsa, listened to Radyo Bandido to keep track of the revolution.


Every word spoken by June Keithley was gospel truth. I remembered getting worried, but giddy at the same time, when Keithley shot down the rumor that Marcos had fled—by paraphrasing it with a song by The Zombies, “She’s Not There.” I was fascinated with the power of the airwaves.


It didn’t take long before writing actually became my job, along with being a radio DJ.



Far from the madding crowd


By Raoul J. Chee Kee


CHRISTMAS was always spent with my uncle’s family in Laoag. It was one tradition I looked forward to every year.


Two or three days before the 25th, my family and I would hop on a bus that took us—after 10 long hours—to Laoag City, the capital of Ilocos Norte.  Since we always booked the evening trip, we would arrive by morning to a breakfast lovingly prepared by my late aunt, Eleanor Juan.


She always prepared the same food but we never, ever grew tired of eating it.


On the round table with the lazy Susan would be plates of longganisa (native pork link sausages), fried eggs, rice, chopped tomatoes and spiked vinegar. Sometimes there would be imbaliktad, a soupy dish of chopped beef or goat meat, and entrails.


That breakfast was a chance for everyone to catch up on each other’s lives. Aunts and uncles would remark on how tall/handsome/pretty their nephews and nieces were getting. Stories and anecdotes would be traded for over two hours. It would be cut short only because the helpers had to begin preparing lunch.


By that afternoon or maybe the following day, all of us would have settled into the groove of provincial life—one that was slower, filled with shared stories and punctuated by meals, afternoon naps, and merienda.


Of course, the highlights were there like the Midnight Mass, the Noche Buena and the opening of the gifts but there were also “quieter” moments:  a beach trip to Currimao, sunset photos at Paoay Church, calesa rides.


“It’s like Manila didn’t exist,” my mother would exclaim at these precise moments, and somehow we all knew what she meant.



The ghosts of Christmas Past


By Constantino C. Tejero


THE CHRISTMAS of yore literally lingers longer in the heart and mind. Those Christmas cards, season’s greetings via telegram, and photographs of family reunions you keep for years.


New technology and the social media are softly killing those things. You may try to capture memories of this year’s Christmas through the latest gadget or in cyberspace, but then they’re just as soon deleted or skipped over as the season winds down. And if ever you store them, it’s not with the same tenderness and affection you open that photo album when you scrawl or scroll on that touchscreen.


Those are not the only things we’re missing. The Christmas tree then was a real tree. Sometimes the twigs were coated with congealed soap suds to resemble snow.


There was that parol of cellophane or papel de japon pasted on a bamboo frame shaped like a star, often with glittery tassels to resemble a comet, sometimes with a small light bulb inside, like a heart with an internal glow.


And every Christmas gift then was properly wrapped and elaborately beribboned, which more often than not the giver did himself or herself. This lent the gift a personalized look, the amateur effort rather touching.


But all these are just symbols—external manifestations of an inner faith. As you mature, you grow more spiritual. The interior life has become the bigger reality. You no longer aspire for wealth and power, fame and good looks—pale reflections of the real. All you want is peace of mind.


FAMILY TOGETHERNESS. (From left, standing) JC Baga, Marc Anthony Reyes,
Vangie Baga-Reyes, Nap Baga, Sol Baga, Marah Molina (green shirt), Roi Molina, Elaine Molina, Jerome Baga, Rose Baga, Peter Baga, Menchie Baga and Nelson Baga; (seated, from left) Marianne Molina, Rap-Rap Baga, Maxi
Reyes, Clarisse Baga, Mavi Reyes, Gab Baga and Camille Baga

In other words, as you grow older, you simplify. You forego many things and retain only the essentials, such as those keepsakes, remembrances of Christmases past.



When Daddy came home for Christmas


By Alex Y. Vergara


MY FATHER probably belonged to the first batch of OFWs, even before such an acronym came into use. In fact, even before the Marcos administration made it an official policy to send Filipino labor abroad, Daddy had already sought overseas employment in then war-torn Vietnam in the late ’60s.


As an electronics and communication technician for an American contractor in South Vietnam, he and his Pinoy colleagues had the routine job of climbing towers and setting up communication equipment in the outskirts of Saigon and Bien Hoa.


As if climbing and balancing themselves precariously on huge steel bars weren’t enough, they had to be on the lookout for bombing raids and stray troops of the Viet-Cong army who might be tempted to use them for target practice.


Although the American firm allowed its foreign workers to go on annual vacations, they could do it only one or two at a time. Barring emergency at home, everyone followed a prearranged schedule.


Thus, it was pretty common for my sister Ida and me (our youngest brother Ronnie wasn’t born yet) to spend Christmases in Manila without Daddy. And since PLDT was taking forever to act on our application for a phone line, our communication with him was mainly through letters, pictures and occasional voice tapes—reel tapes instead of cassettes, take note—he and Mommy sent each other.


It had been that way for years.


We were bracing ourselves for another holiday season spent without Daddy when we all got the surprise of our lives as we came home one day. It was a few evenings before Christmas Day of 1971.


As my mother, sister and I got off the taxi after doing some Christmas shopping in downtown Manila, we saw through our partly opened door a silver Christmas tree with red, blue, green and gold trimmings. Set in the living room, it had satin balls, miniature bells, nativity scenes and angels playing lyres and trumpets.


In the eyes of a six-year-old child, the tree looked so huge and out of this world. But it still needed some finishing touches. And guess who was doing the decorating to holiday music, sung at full volume by the Ray Conniff Singers?


It wasn’t Santa Claus, but someone dearer and much, much better.



Nothing beats family


By Vangie Baga-Reyes


I’ve been enormously blessed with Christmas memories throughout my 44 years. Most of these wonderful memories have been spent with family.


My family has grown big—from six (my dad and mom, my two brothers and sister) to 22 members, including a cute grandson by my nephew.


Every year, we anticipate Christmas, when we rekindle our relationship as a family without trying to notice how we get older each year.


We live away from each other, some in Abra (10 hours away from Manila), and others in Bulacan, Quezon City and Valenzuela City.


We always look forward to Christmas in my parents’ house in Valenzuela City. My sister Elaine and sisters-in-law Menchie and Rose are awesome cooks.


A few hours before Christmas Eve, they’re all busy chopping, slicing and sorting out ingredients for our traditional holiday fare—kare-kare in very thick peanut sauce, pork kaldereta with coconut milk, pancit canton loaded with squid balls, fried chicken and pork dinuguan.


To warm our tummy for the cold night, my mom Sol, who’s half-Chinese, is also preoccupied preparing her specialty soup dish which she learned from my Chinese lolo.  It’s called tungkoy, a very flavorful dark broth with chicken, pork pata, ginger, misua and sibot, a Chinese herbal medicine.


The men prepare the ice cooler to be filled with beer, soda and wine. They also work on the microphones and speakers for the videoke session after midnight. Yes, after midnight when people in the neighborhood are settled down enjoying their own family dinner. We’re not the rowdy type. We sing mostly Christmas songs and some ’70s and ’80s music.


While the folks are at work on dinner, the kids run around the living room and laugh with their cousins. No one is engrossed with PSP (Play Station Portable), tablets or mobile phones. They know how to spend quality moments with their cousins more than anything else, because they don’t get to see each other that much. Even the television sets are off.


I don’t bake but I’m in charge of the desserts, and I know where to get the creamiest and deadliest sweets.


After the 10 p.m. Mass in the nearby chapel, everyone is readily seated at the large wooden table eager to devour the food. We gather around and tell stories of family life, work, achievements, failures and sickness.


Then, an uncontrollable excitement overcomes the kids as the opening of gifts comes after dinner.


My dad Nap settles into his recliner, while mom readies a pair of scissors to help the little ones open their gifts. We gather in the living room and a designated emcee calls each one’s name to open the present in front. Each gift is carefully chosen for each member of the family.


We have so much fun; and to see the expressions on our kids’ faces while opening the gifts is priceless.


This has been our kind of celebration. No advanced technology or gadgets ever changed that. Well, this might seem very shallow to others, but it’s hard to beat the pure joy of spending Christmas with your dearest ones.



Singing and dancing for our candy


By Cheche V. Moral


GROWING UP in a big, close-knit clan in a small town with many cousins and playmates, we had riotous fun on Christmas.


For the parents in my clan, it was always hard to keep track of the kids at any time of day, as one thing or another was going on in someone’s house. This was way before there were cell phones to keep tabs on anyone. Yet they never worried that any of us kids was missing a meal. Lunch could be in this uncle’s house, second lunch in an aunt’s, dinner at Lola’s, etc.


There was never one designated host for, say, Noche Buena dinner, as every household would be doing its thing, and we’d all wind up Noche Buena-hopping way into the morning.


I learned my way around the kitchen early on from all those feasts. My family loves to eat—and cook—as much as the next Filipino home. Come New Year, there would still be leftovers from the Christmas dinner.


There were also lots of lolo and lola, aunts and uncles, on top of godparents to expect gifts from. Us kids were made to sing and dance for visiting relatives; we would grudgingly obey, in exchange for the presents and thick wads of crisp paper bills. Those meant candies galore for me!


I was a doubter even then, and I knew who “Santa” was. But if I could have all the chocolates and candies I wanted, I was willing to pretend I didn’t know who was stuffing my white, knee-length stockings, and who magically put those gifts under the tree. Nobody knew then that one day I would pay dearly for eating all those sweets.


Ah, but what I’d give to live my childhood’s Christmas again. Perhaps I’ll sing and dance, or even recite “O Captain! My Captain!”—with feeling—twice.



A nerd is born


By Anne A. Jambora


A HAPPY memory of Christmas pre-digital age takes me back to a time when I was eight years old, helping my mom set up the 10-ft-high tree, listening (regrettably) to the music of the Ray Conniff Singers blaring from the stereo, and waking up to the lingering smell of peppermint candy cane in my room.


It was family tradition for us children to perform before our parents and relatives the things we were mandated—nay, compelled—to learn by our mom in that school year. I never looked forward to family recitals, especially because my mom always made me do things I wasn’t interested in. Like, really.


When I wanted to learn tap dancing, she enrolled me in ballet school. When I wanted to play the guitar, she hired a piano teacher. Even the time I wanted to have a horse so I could learn how to ride, she bought me a cow. Yes, a cow with a big cowbell around its neck.


That Christmas, my older sister, Pinky, was choreographing a dance skit to the Ray Conniff Singers’ “The Christmas Alphabet.” Despite my insistence that I perform the “R” because playing the reindeer seemed cool, she designated me to play “I,” the icing on the cake as sweet as sugar cane. I yielded. She was bigger than I.


When scheduling rehearsals meant a whole lot of legwork—there were no cell phones back then—Pinky had the formidable task of searching for me in a one-hectare property.


In the daytime, she would find me with my big brothers, riding a Honda XL 250, even if my feet couldn’t reach the pedals. At nighttime, I would be out hunting bats, still with my big bros, and she had to drag me by the hair to practice.


It was one Christmas that I didn’t ask for anything. So, after our performance, I disinterestedly joined my family as they gathered around the Christmas tree. My mom could have given me a firecracker for all I cared. But then I got a Texas Instrument Speak & Spell. I spoke a word, and the yellow and red plastic machine spelled it out for me. It was magic!


It sparked my love affair with gadgets, and over the years the bullheaded, adventurous little girl turned into a nerd, burying my nose in books and gadgets instead of climbing trees and jumping out windows. I guess Santa did give me everything on my Christmas alphabet.



Noche Buena brigade


By Pam Pastor


I GREW UP in a house my grandfather built, where my father and his siblings also grew up. I spent some of the best Christmases of my life in that house, when my biggest worries were how slow the clock was moving (I could open presents only after Noche Buena!) and if I would get every book on my wish list.


That house was connected to my cousins’ houses, and when we were growing up, we started our own holiday traditions. My favorite was our post-Noche Buena brigade. We wanted to bring cheer to the needy and to people who had to work on Christmas Eve.


On the afternoon before Christmas, we would prepare bags of sandwiches, juice, candies and bananas.


After enjoying a Christmas feast with our own families, we would go out and hand them out to the people we’d see on the streets. We also made stops at hospitals, fire stations and convenience stores—anywhere we could find people who were working instead of spending Christmas with their families.


Our bags were always met with big smiles.


I think those were the years that prepared me for the adult Christmas— when you’re panicking because the clock seems to move too fast, when you’re fulfilling people’s Christmas wishes instead of making them, and when you get a bigger joy out of giving.



Floating Christmas


By Tatin Yang



I CAN’T quite remember when it happened, but it became sort of a tradition for my family and me to celebrate Christmas and New Year in another country.


One of the most memorable was a Hong Kong trip years ago, where we stayed onboard a boat. We were docked in Causeway Bay and needed to take a wooden dinghy to get to the shopping centers.


The boat had no TV or Internet. Our last stop before returning to the boat would be the supermarket, to buy fruits, chips, steaks and salad fixings; my dad would grill the steaks from the boat’s tiny kitchen and we would eat on the deck, bundled up in an assortment of sweaters and scarves, eating steak while watching the bright lights from the building half-eclipsed by the foggy air.


Every year, our family would have one game we’d be addicted to. That year, it was “Word Mole” off my dad’s Blackberry. We’d take turns trying to beat each other’s high score (my dad and my brother are extremely competitive), and my dad offered up a cash prize to whoever would beat his score.

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