I remember the Christmas I first fell for a boy. Literally.
With five older brothers and no sisters, it was inevitable that I would become a bit of a tomboy, wearing pants, playing basketball, and zipping around our village on a skateboard. And I got pretty good, too, jumping off sidewalks long before the age of helmets and kneepads.
I was in Grade 5 and 11 years old, though, so I was growing boobs, and my precocious hormones were beginning to kick in. Their target: my crush, my neighbor, Robby (of course that’s not his real name, silly). He was four years older, a jock with really nice eyes and a cute butt, and his family owned the sari-sari store on the next block. I don’t know how many times I would skate by in the afternoons after school, hoping to catch a glimpse.
One Christmas Day, the relatives were all in our house for the eating and the mahjong, and naturally my cousins brought their own skateboards. I spent most of that glorious day out on the street, yelling with the other kids, the wind in my hair.
On an impulse, I decided to ride by Robby’s store again—and what do you know, the store was open, and the boy of my dreams was manning the counter.
I must have stared too long, because I was suddenly startled by the sound of a tricycle honking its horn right behind me. My skateboard swerved, and I flew—flushed cheeks, beating heart, decimated pride and all—straight into a canal.
I don’t know how long I sat there, sewage gunk soaking into my pants and sneakers. Then I looked up, and like some kind of near-death apparition, Robby appeared, blocking out the sun so it gave him an otherworldly backlight. (Apparition nga, eh.)
“Okay ka lang?” he asked with genuine concern, and actually helped me up and out of the three-foot-deep canal with both hands while my useless male cousins stared in shock. I became aware of a sharp pain in my right ankle. Next thing I knew, I was staring straight into Robby’s eyes. “Do you want to sit down?” he asked.
With canal water dripping from my hair, I pulled myself up, replied, “No, thanks, okay lang ako,” picked up my board, turned around and marched home, cousins trailing behind me, not looking back, all the while holding back tears from the pain in my foot.
Naturally, when I got home, I disrupted the mahjong game, and my parents and aunts descended on me like clucking
hens. Before I knew it, I had been cleaned up by a helper, and my father had iced my foot and wrapped it lovingly in a tight bandage.
I spent the rest of Christmas Day 1976 lying on the couch, being served callos and fruit salad, and laughing with my cousins over the incident (even if the foot still hurt).
The ankle would turn out to have a hairline fracture, and I would spend the first month of the new year going to school in crutches. Next time I saw Robby at Mass, though, he gave me the sweetest, most knowing smile.
An innocent Christmas
By Cathy Yamsuan
IT WAS 1993, we were young and restless, so we decided to go to Baguio City on a whim.
No clothes packed, the only cash we had was what we carried in our wallets. After air-kissing our goodbyes at the last Christmas party of the year, we headed to the biggest mall at that time and bought toothbrushes, a backpack and clothes appropriate for the cold weather.
It was already evening when we reached the bus station in Cubao. We occupied the seat across the driver and tried to get some shuteye. A baby cried. I didn’t mind. He did.
The bus was making a U-turn on its way to North Diversion Road when he suddenly looked at me and asked, “Why do you love me?” I think I said, “Just because.”
The trip up north was uneventful. It was past midnight when we reached Baguio. There was literally no room at the inn.
I knew it was dangerous to walk around a strange place, especially since we were obviously giving off that visitors-from-Manila vibe. We chanced upon a vacancy near Baguio General Hospital. Next morning, the mercury read 16 degrees Celsius.
The good thing about memory is that it lets you edit things. The downside is that it’s also like a sieve that doesn’t let you keep all you want to remember.
What I still have is the memory of us being serenaded with holiday carols by kids in the middle of the day. And of eating orange popsicles, if only to be ironic.
We had beef tapa, boneless bangus and garlic rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We took jeepneys everywhere, that being a time when traffic around Baguio was still tolerable. We went to Mines View Park. The view was still wow then.
There were stone steps going down from the park’s balcony, so down we went. Seeing nothing there, we went back up. After we caught our breath on the way up, he said he was glad I wasn’t “fussy like other girls.”
We didn’t bother with the other touristy stuff. We chose to explore the part of the city not found in bookstore postcards. We walked, looked and watched. We hung out in bus terminals and sidewalks, just taking it all in.
He told stories, and so did I. We were happy just being together.
The good thing about being young is that you still didn’t have a clue of what lies ahead. Which means you can be carefree all you want.
The downside is that you can sometimes be so clueless, so you don’t really care about the value of something until it is permanently lost.
I thought about this episode as my best Christmas memory because of the things I felt I could do then. I wasn’t one of those who underwent a quarter-life crisis. I was financially independent, had (and still have) the best tropa in the world and a family that loves me. I knew what I wanted to accomplish and I knew I was good at something.
That Christmas was among the first of my many innocent adventures. It happened at a time I could do seemingly pointless stuff and not have to explain to anyone.
I remember it, maybe because it was a life so different from what I am living now.
The disfigured gift
By Alex Y. Vergara
EXCHANGING gifts during Christmas parties in school was one of the highlights of my young, carefree life. The only thing that made me giddier as the big day neared was my concern over what to wear.
Months before December, I would already start scanning department store shelves in search of the ideal present. It was all in vain, of course, as my budget-conscious mother would always end up having her way.
Having lived through World War II, she had developed a practical mindset, which extended to the kind of gifts she was willing to give.
Her gift of choice: a trusty face towel and a “guest-size” bar of Safeguard. To my dismay and embarrassment, I brought the same exchange gift to school almost every year until I was given some say years later.
By then, I was allowed to choose the gift I wanted to exchange, as long as it fell within the teacher’s suggested price range. No more, no less.
Armed with this newfound sense of freedom, I once bought an assortment of candies that ended up exceeding my budget.
Unknown to my mother, I had to dip into my school allowance to make up for the shortfall. Since I wanted my gift to be extra bongga that year, my 10-year-old self didn’t mind spending a bit more.
After all the trouble I went through, you wouldn’t believe what I got in return come revelation time. It was one in a series of revelations I would learn about life before the day was over.
Imagine my shock and disappointment to find a deer figurine made of plaster of Paris peering from the partly opened box. Since I didn’t know Bambi, it was only years later that I learned who the animal character was.
It wasn’t because I was too old to appreciate such a gift. What bothered me was that one of Bambi’s ears was missing.
I looked inside the box, hoping that the missing part was there. If it broke along the way, I could have asked my dad to glue it back on later. I found nothing.
It dawned on me that the giver, who was, of course, one of my classmates, wrapped Bambi in her disfigured state.
I told my teacher about it, but all she could manage was to look at me and shake her head in sympathy. By then, the giver had already left the party to enjoy his loot.
I was never a crybaby in school, but I was really hurting inside as I dragged myself home that afternoon.
Since my mom was sure to ask me what I got, my biggest problem was whether to tell her or not. With my dad’s knowledge, I decided to “massage” the truth to spare her feelings.
“Oh, I got a box of chocolate,” I said. “But the traffic along España was so bad that my friend and I got hungry. Before we knew it, we’d already finished the entire box.”
I never mustered the courage to confront my erring classmate when school resumed in January. He never apologized for what he did, either. Perhaps, someone chose and wrapped the earless figurine for him. Could it have been his mother?
If giving someone the benefit of the doubt is tantamount to forgiveness, then consider him forgiven.
As I grew older, my Bambi experience, as I call it now, didn’t dampen my fervor to attend Christmas parties. Nor did it make me revert to giving others my mother’s exchange gift of choice. God, no!
But instead of focusing on what I’m going to get, I eventually learned to treat such Christmas gatherings as a chance to enjoy the break, reconnect with old friends and build new friendships while we’re all dressed in nice clothes.
Surviving a Christmas storm
By Gibbs Cadiz
TYPHOON “Sisang” (international name: Nina) slammed into Sorsogon one late November evening in 1987, in what would prove to be the longest night of my young life.
I was 17, a freshman in the local college seminary.
News on the radio that the coming storm was stronger than usual was met with a collective shrug. How strong was strong? Sorsogon got lashed by typhoons year in and year out, but as soon as the rains petered out and the winds dissipated, people picked themselves up and life went on.
Sisang was a temperamental storm that hated to be ordinary. By dusk it was pitch-black; power had been cut and the wind and rain were terrifying outside. Wikipedia now says, “Nina was the worst typhoon to strike the Philippines in 17 years, since Patsy in 1970.”
We got the feeling that this typhoon was indeed of a different strength and ferocity when, barely two hours into its rampage, part of the roof of our old seminary house got wrenched away.
One moment we were huddled underneath, sloshing around in ankle-deep waters (water was everywhere), and the next there was an unearthly crack and we were flailing about, wet and whiplashed in the raging storm. We scrambled toward the chapel, and thankfully that part of the old building held, the roof creaking mightily through the night as we held vigil, unable to sleep, wondering about our kinsfolk in other parts of town.
At dawn, with the storm gone, we beheld a vista we hadn’t seen before—the view now startlingly unimpeded for perhaps miles around, as houses and trees and vehicles and all manner of previously standing objects were bent, broken, twisted or otherwise knocked flat on the ground. People wandered about, mute and glassy-eyed. It was a long walk from the seminary to the main part of town; everywhere the damage was stupefying.
I was anxious to reach our house, which was by the bay, and check on my family. I nearly didn’t recognize our yard; it was knee-deep in stinking flotsam deposited there by the sea, which had apparently risen to heretofore unfamiliar levels—what is now known as a storm surge.
Sorsogon’s early experience with a storm surge care of Sisang—not knowing any better, we called it “tidal wave” then—caused hundreds of deaths, the inundation not only of coastal areas but even the town center, and widespread trauma in a people used to calamity but shocked to their core by this new phenomenon.
But, miraculously, our house—built in the 1960s, a solid two-story structure that looked ugly by architectural standards but with thick walls built to endure—had withstood the howler. The nearby Colegio de la Milagrosa had buildings that were now bald and roofless; save for some shredded rain gutters here and there and sludge all over, our house was intact.
And inside, I found, with my mother and two younger brothers (my father was an OFW in Saudi Arabia then), a neighboring family of about seven who had taken refuge in our home. Their house, nearer by the sea, had been swept away. It was nearly noon now, and they were dining on sardines, the only available food to be had.
It was the first day of a long period of recovery from Sisang. President Corazon Aquino flew in two days later to commiserate with our stricken town; by then the dead had filled up the pews of the cathedral, people were refusing to eat anything from the sea for fear of the bodies that were still being fished out, and dust misted the air as the vast slabs of mud deposited by the waters now dried up in the torrid post-typhoon sun.
Electricity would not come back until three months later; we were sent home from our Philosophy studies as the seminary got itself a new roof. The province got back to the eternal business of getting back on its feet. And when Christmas came a couple of weeks later, in the chilly darkness of the early morning, the church was nevertheless full, the congregation that had lately seen so much death and destruction inviolable in their faith.
My family shared a noche buena of corned beef and instant noodles with our adopted neighbors that year, in wispy candlelight. It was the sparsest Christmas feast we’ve ever had—but in the company of fellow survivors of a life-changing calamity, perhaps also the most meaningful.
It remains an indelible memory.
Wrapped in fun
By Raoul J. Chee Kee
BACK WHEN we were little, Christmas meant only caroling and trying to stay up through the Mass and noche buena so we could tear open our presents.
It was always such an ordeal having to wait for everyone’s gifts to be passed around—not that there were really many, only that we spent and continue to spend the holidays with my mother’s brother and his family in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte.
One Christmas, an older cousin joined the ruckus. Manang Connie was really my mother’s cousin; we used to wave to her from across the street. Once all the gifts had been opened and all the adults looked tired but happy, there was nothing left to do but sweep up the mangled ribbons, gift tags and torn wrappers.
She may have had a bit to drink or she just wanted to have some fun, but Manang Connie suddenly dove into the wrappers and emerged clutching sparkly foil. Snap! A picture was taken, one that I still remember vividly.
She passed away a few years later but every year since, we’ve done the same thing. It’s tradition.
My beautiful mistake
By Cheche V. Moral
No, she wasn’t going back to the breeder.
Didn’t need to think twice when the vet suggested we return the scrawny little pug, her left eye bulging out of its socket more than normal, its center milky-white, like an angry, ripe boil about to pop.
The eye was badly infected from a scratch, perhaps by another pup in the litter; quite likely she was going to be blind. Vet said the breeder surely knew, and should’ve disclosed it to us before turning over the pup. Better to return her now.
No. We were keeping her, so please, please, good doctor, make her well.
Two days earlier, when I first met her, I held her as far away from my nose, that tiny, wiggly, smelly creature, on the ride home that cool December evening, a day after my birthday 10 years ago.
She was a birthday gift, a gift that was to be a lesson in responsibility for this adult who was living only for herself. “And she’s so cute!” cooed Anne, the generous, well-meaning giver, already in love with the pup the first time she laid eyes on her photo online.
I could see through Anne’s sugarcoated arm-twisting. I knew the pup was a mistake. I hadn’t had a dog since I was 14, and I was certain I didn’t want the heartbreak of one day losing another one. Not again.
So it wasn’t love at first sight. I found things, petty excuses not to fall in love. She was four months old, never been bathed, and stank to high heavens! She had long, sharp nails that dug painfully into my skin. Her large eyes bulged from her black mask, shivering in distress in the tentative grip of this stranger who was now her very reluctant carer.
I would soon learn that this frail little thing had quite a spirit—and appetite—that belied her puny size.
On her first night in her new home, I fed her a large bowlful of kibble, which she polished up with gusto, picking up every single morsel that spilled on the floor. Thinking she must have been hungry, I poured another serving, which she finished just as quickly. (I hadn’t had a dog in so many years, I didn’t know you fed them measured portions.) At this point, her tiny belly had grown so round it was threatening to burst!
Runs on the first day! Not fun cleaning up after a puppy with the runs, which bolstered my misgivings even more.
But I don’t know, maybe it was those large, sad goo-goo pug eyes. Maybe it was her peculiar wrinkled mug, looking perpetually mournful and dejected. How could anyone not love that face! I didn’t know it then, but I was becoming taken.
It took just a full day for me to be completely besotted. I knew I couldn’t bear to part with this helpless, ugly little thing, ever again, however daunting the prospect of caring for her was. Vet said the infection had to be treated aggressively, since it could infect her brain, and her right eye, which was already also partially blind. She had to be confined in the dog hospital.
Missy Elliot, named after the rapper, knew us for 48 hours, and yet whenever we’d visit every day during her confinement, she’d excitedly wiggle out of the vet assistant’s hands to jump into our arms, licking our faces nonstop in joy.
Our goodhearted vet saw how our visits were helping in Missy’s healing, such that he said okay when we asked permission to bring her home for Christmas, on the condition that we bring her back for continued confinement. We brought her home again on New Year’s Eve, anticipating the anxiety wrought by loud fireworks on her acute, sensitive hearing.
This year marks Missy’s 10th Christmas with us, long blind in her left eye and almost completely blind on the right; often she can’t see the treat dangled right under nose.
She grew up confident, perhaps a tad spoiled, undaunted by the sound of fireworks. Already arthritic, and her formerly jet-black mask now mostly gray, she still jumps excitedly like a puppy whenever we come home.
And she never again stank another day in her life—well, mostly—this most beautiful, ugly mistake of my life.
Operation Kill All Trolls
By Pam Pastor
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with trolls—you know, those Russ dolls with beady eyes and crazy hair.
I went to Gift Gate every chance I could get, buying troll rings, earrings, pencil toppers and little dolls. Any occasion that merited a gift—birthdays, Christmas, my confirmation—meant I could ask for the bigger troll dolls, the ones with the plush bodies.
Soon, I had amassed an impressive collection of trolls, over 30 of them in different sizes and outfits. The adults in my life thought the trolls were hella ugly but they gave in to my whims, probably thinking, “They’re just little dolls, what harm can they do?”
But not one of my grandmas—she was decidedly anti-troll. She was convinced that, like Beetlejuice, trolls were evil.
I wasn’t helping the situation. Because I didn’t want any of my trolls to feel left out, I made sure that they all surrounded me as I slept—yes, over 30 of them. I had trolls guarding me from head to foot each night.
That was when grandma decided that the Satanic troll circle had to be broken. Operation Kill All Trolls was born.
One gruesome day, I was made to surrender all my trolls, and I cried as I watched my grandma dump them into a drum and burn them in her quest to protect me from evil. It was brutal.
Obviously, this is not a Christmas story. Yet.
Fourteen years later, in the middle of the holiday rush, I was visiting a friend when I noticed that he had trolls from his childhood on display in his living room. The sight triggered the memory of my troll heartbreak and that night, I blogged about Operation Kill All Trolls.
A few days before Christmas, a package arrived and, to my surprise, when I tore it open, a troll wizard with thick pink hair fell out. His name was Magic, and he arrived with a letter:
“Hi Pam! Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones! Here’s my one and only troll … it’s a gift from a dear old friend for my 18th birthday, which is the only reason I’m still keeping it. Now, I think I’ve found the perfect foster parent for him…”
The letter was signed by Nida Ramirez (who was still Nida Gatus then), Visprint’s publishing manager. Although we had been e-mail buddies for a while (we started communicating after I reviewed Bob Ong’s first book “ABNKKBSNPLAko?!”), Nida and I had not met face-to-face when she read my sob story and decided to give her troll to me.
It was more than a holiday surprise; it was a lesson in kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity, and their power to heal pain. That was nine years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite Christmas memories.
Funny, but this week, when I sent Nida a message to ask if I could write about it, she couldn’t even remember what she did for me.
In 2005, Nida gave me a great gift—she sent me her troll Magic, and it’s still one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me.
In 2014, Nida gave me another gift—the realization that your little acts of kindness stay with people for a long long time, long after you forget about them.
A Merry Zombie Christmas
By Tatin Yang
Havimng a lot of friends is a good thing, but you’ll find that being Miss Congeniality can be a stressful thing when Christmas comes along. Your gift list is a mile long, and it takes a lot of creativity to give great and meaningful presents when you’re pressed for time and money.
I already forgot which friend in our group came up with the brilliant idea of eschewing individual gifts and just doing a Secret Santa, but it has ended up becoming one of our most treasured traditions.
Our rules are simple: Couples in the group cannot pick each other (we use an online Secret Santa generator); each person has to submit a wishlist, and there’s a minimum P3,500 spend—a generous Santa can go over budget, but you must meet the minimum.
The best part is the gift-wrapping contest. Each year, we set a theme for gift-wrapping. Two years ago, the theme was zombie Christmas.
It has become a running joke among my friends that I am the most terrible gift-wrapper of all. I always argue that it’s what’s inside that counts—I may be a crappy wrapper, but I know how to give a good gift.
I take bad gift-wrapping to a different level. One time, I handed a friend a present wrapped in used bond paper and carefully peeled Scotch tape from a plastic bag; the moment she set my gift down, the wrapping came apart. “It’s self-opening,” I explained.
For zombie Christmas, I wanted to prove my friends wrong. I was going to wow them with an artistically done gift box in the shape of a zombie brain. I bought my materials—a big Styrofoam ball, which I planned to cut in half and hollow out while painting the exterior ridges in red poster paint. To add pizzazz, I decided to string Christmas lights around the brain gift box so my bloody creation would have a festive touch.
However, no one told me that Styrofoam would be so damn hard to cut into, impossible really. Forget hollowing it out; finding a real zombie would’ve been easier.
Did I mention that I’m a champion crammer, too? All this was happening four hours before the party. I needed a Plan B, stat. Thankfully, we had an old pail at home. I rushed to National Book Store, bought a red balloon and double-sided tape. I inflated the balloon and stuffed it down the pail to create a half-dome for the zombie brain. I then covered the balloon with double-sided tape, shredded strips of toilet paper and stuck crumpled pieces to cover the balloon’s surface.
I mixed red and white poster paint to create brain-flesh pink and proceeded to color my balloon brain. I wrapped the Christmas lights around the pail and I was ready with my entry.
Needless to say, I lost. But then, it was pretty hard to beat Pam, whose wrapped present required her recipient to don a pair of gloves to retrieve his present, which was nestled inside the belly of a bloody baby doll with one eye gouged out and its stuffing spilling out—the baby was a casualty of the zombie war.
Our theme this year is vintage. The party is in a week, and no, I haven’t started wrapping yet.