I DON’T do Christmas tables, never did. It was Mom. She cooked everything for our noche buena, and for New Year’s Eve, too. My only contribution was either an apple or a cherry pie, to add to her famous leche flan, for dessert.
My brother Danny and I, her only children, also got our regular supply of tapa, mechado and hamburger from her; special friends and relatives got their own occasional supply. She expressed her love for us through her cooking, and was generous all year round; I had a whole stack of hamburgers that outlived her. But it was during Christmas that she really poured it on.
Noche buena dinner was always with Mom, and it was about the only time I’d see poor relations who came away full, with cash envelopes to boot.
Many things have changed since Mom left us in 2007. I have myself changed, as have the times. My focus has shifted from family to my aging self. Now it’s my health that dictates what I eat, and it knows no season—what’s bad for me is bad all year round.
Adjusting without Mom has not been easy, but time and age naturally force adjustments. With our children having their own families, indeed lives of their own, Vergel and I, for the first time this year, may be all by our lonesome on Christmas Eve, but it’ll still be Christmas, different but surely neither lonely nor unexciting. If there were a couple predisposed to a pleasant surprise, that would
I’ve asked fellow seniors how they are themselves faring this season, and here’s what they have to say:
Lina Jacinto Arellano
“Gerry and I married very late in life, but we’ve made it to our 23rd year; that’s 23 Christmases together. Christmas used to be a time for abundant food and lively gatherings with family and friends. I equated Christmas with material blessings—a time for giving generous and thoughtful gifts to loved ones.
“But Christmas has changed for us. It’s become a more serene time. Gerry and I spend a lot of it in quiet; we’ve found Christmas a perfect season for inner reflection and spiritual bonding. Of course, we help other when we can in our own quiet way. I also have continued what my mother started in her province—providing for local college scholars with one condition: They must help someone else when they are in a position to do so.
“In our senior years, we’ve realized more than ever that our life together is God’s gift, and in our quiet moments we offer deep gratitude for each day and each other. We live each new day with this awareness.
“With all its challenges, this is an exciting time to be alive!”
Danny and Susan Roces
Danny: “I feel Mom’s loss most at Christmastime. Lucky for me, my wife Susan learned to do most of my favorite dishes from Mom, and, I must say, she does them exactly as Mom used to do. Also, like Mom, Susan gifts friends with her delicious tapa, which itself has become her little business from home. Christmas, still, will never be the same without Mom. But I’m older now, and Christmas could not have but only changed for me.”
Susan: “Since Mama Lita died, we’ve been spending Christmas at home, with just the immediate family. I prepare the children’s favorite dish—roast beef. For reasons of health, we don’t serve ham, something Mama would never understand. Alfred, our youngest, is a pastry chef, so he takes care of desserts. We don’t go overboard with food anymore. We keep things simple.”
Danny: “Now that the kids are all grown, I don’t worry about Christmas the way I used to. Still some friends continue to play Santa to my children and grandchildren, but Susan and I have stopped.”
Susan: “We give them some money for themselves, and they spend it at tiangge, where it goes a longer way.”
Danny: “At this time we’re happy to help the less fortunate, in our small way. No matter how little one has, there’s always someone who has far less. Lolo Rafael always comes to me as a guiding spirit of the season; he was so considerate and respectful of the poor always, and not only at Christmas.”
“Christmas again finds me taking care of Lisa, my wife of nearly 40 years. My task is to encourage her to make the effort to improve physically, to figure out ways to give her not only physical, but also emotional and psychological support. She’s been ill a year and 10 months now.
“At this point I realize there’s no sacrifice too big for one’s loved one, especially a spouse. When a spouse suffers, the other must somehow grow stronger to carry the other’s cross apart from his or her own.
“Every year Christmas seems different. It gets less complicated, simpler. I like to take the time to savor Christmas, in its slowness and quietude, with Lisa. It’s a joy to watch her progress, step by little step, as with a baby in the eyes of an excited father. I’m inspired by the story of Job in the Old Testament. With God’s blessing, I find something to celebrate every day, and it feels like Christmas.
“Sure, I look forward to the New Year. It’s yet another year to be grateful for; more importantly, it gives me another opportunity to share what I can with others.
“Lisa’s health issue is a challenge that can happen to anyone. We just have to rise to life’s challenges. They’re all part of life, I suppose. Slowly, I’ve started to resume my normal activities; I’m back at work, taking on the advocacies close to my heart, being active in the Rotary, joining church activities, meeting friends from school, from my church, from my neighborhood.
“My life is more contained, much slower yet fuller. If I’m positive, it’s because I believe life doesn’t really belong to us. We have to make the most of it before we give it back.”
“Christmas should be sung! It’s Christmas carols and bells ringing, and building on traditions and starting new ones year after year.
“Three years ago, 10 ukulele-playing friends, all seniors, including myself, planned a miniconcert at our home for our families at Christmas. We practiced way before Christmas, some learning to play the uke for the first time. Every year we seem to get better. We repeat, build on our successes, and, before we know it, we have another tradition going at Christmastime.
“When my parents were still living, we spent Christmas Eve with them. Christmas lunch was always with my wife Lourdes’ family. Now Christmas Eve is celebrated in our house, with our family and the families of eight or so longtime friends. There are gifts for everybody, including the pets! The best part is, for nearly three years, our two granddaughters, ages 22 and 15, both foodies, prepare the special meal, from appetizers to desserts. Every year they surprise us. It is itself another tradition in the making.
“New Year’s we spend in Baguio. Since the children were small, we, along with four other families, are hosted by dear friends Tammy and Nelson Leung at their fabulous home —decorated by Tammy, of course! You can’t imagine how grand and how much fun it is. Tammy even hires a band!
“And Chinese New Year we celebrate in our home with our many Chinese friends. Everybody wears a costume. This is the one time our home can’t take all guests; we have to put up tents in the garden.
“To be sure, changes are happening because of our age, but Lourdes and I are probably in denial. We don’t want to change a thing about Christmas or New Year or Chinese New Year. The spirit soars, enriched, even if the physical may be going the opposite direction.
“But Christmas will always be Christmas. I even see its many colors in our maintenance capsules!”