It’s the night before Christmas but all through our house, it won’t be quiet.
Picture this. There are 34 of us. We will gather for Sunday worship, after which we head on home for a festive lunch. Then, we open presents.
I remember what American humorist Andy Rooney said: “One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”
It didn’t make much sense when I was a young mom, eager to have a tidy home. But as I have grown older, I have learned the significance of Rooney’s friendly advice. And I have kept it in mind every Christmas.
There was a time when, as much as I loved to watch my children open their presents, I could not wait to get the house back in order. I had a garbage bag standing by in the corner of the room, waiting to swallow up the debris.
I have since realized that life is indeed short, and time is gone too quickly.
What a joy it is to catch that look of wonder in the eyes of a child; to see how they light up at the sight of their favorite toy. And although I don’t quite understand what they play with these days, the ritual has not changed. They first feel the contour of the gift; then shake it, trying to guess what’s inside. And then they rip the package open.
Oh to see that look of delight, to hear that gasp of surprise. Don’t miss it.
Who cares if the room is messy?
I regret having nagged about putting away the ribbons and wrapping paper. But I wanted to have everything back in tiptop shape before serving another round of iced tea and malasadas.
Today, I look back at many such Christmases and rue the time I wasted tidying up instead of drinking in those precious moments. Now I miss that glorious mess.
I had a friend who used to revel in all of it. She would dance up and down, wearing the ribbons, singing about the 12 days of Christmas. Sometimes I wondered about her sanity.
Ah, to be that crazy again!
A quiet moment
At this time every year, I indulge myself. I retreat to a quiet place to read Christmas poetry. I like doing that. It gets me into the spirit of things and calms my heart. It makes me forget if only for a moment that there is a dark cloud hanging over the world.
And it makes me believe once again that, some day, hope and truth will prevail.
I remember as a little girl going to the Beaterio de Santa Catalina in Intramuros to greet our aunt who was a nun. That was a “must do.” If you were a Razón, you were there, wearing your best and newest Christmas attire.
I remember the goodies. We shared the delicious hard caramels Papa bought at El Canal de Suez. We also stopped to pick up merengue de café from La Suiza. Whatever happened to that store?
I remember Mama putting up a Christmas tree in our sala. The lights were shaped like Japanese lanterns, apples and oranges, a hobbyhorse, or a snowman. Our ornaments were fragile and had to be handled with care. They shattered easily and the shards cut into your skin.
At home we didn’t do Santa Claus. Some of our friends did. Our gifts always came from Los Tres Reyes Magos and our morning of surprises was on Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany. My favorite gift was a Shirley Temple doll in a red and white polka-dotted dress. I got her before Pearl Harbor.
No peace on earth
Then came the war. Papa and his ship were missing for the first six months. Our first Christmas without him was spent huddled in the dark passageway of a strange house in New Manila, with the Cabarrus, Ghezzi and Lobregat families, listening to the sound of sirens and bombs.
It was a time for rude awakenings.
First we were told that the three kings could not travel, and that Santa and the reindeer could not fly.
I don’t know if someone in particular finally told us the truth or if we figured it all out for ourselves. I remember feeling sad and disappointed. But I don’t think there was any trauma. I guess the war was traumatic enough on its own. Everything else was tame in comparison.
We had four years of uncertainty and fear. It must have been hard on my parents. We had very little. But it was enough. We managed. And I always saw faith and hope in the eyes of my parents.
I can still hear the voices of the “carolers,” mostly street urchins trying to sing “Jingle Bells” while begging for food. So sad.
And when the war was over, Christmas was never the same…
Is it better today? Do people in war-torn countries have a noche buena at all? Is there for them one silent night?
Here at home, will it be a happy Christmas for the taxi driver who was hit and slapped for cutting in? What will it be like for the man who stole a can of corned beef because he was hungry? He had to languish in jail while big-time thieves and crooks run scot-free? It isn’t fair!
“A little child
A shining star
A stable rude
The door ajar
Yet in that place
So crude, forlorn
The Hope of all the world was born.”
He is our hope. He is our peace.
Christmas is Jesus Christ!