Christmas is upon us and the parties haven’t stopped. Is it this busy everywhere else, or is it just a Filipino thing? We are so into celebrations.
There is a special kind of frenzy in the air. Am I the only one who feels it? It is a mixture of anxiety and relief. Maybe it’s because I lost my original shopping list and had to rush a new one.
Seriously, I started to shop just a few days ago. There was method in my madness. I hit the stores when they opened and then took a lunch break. Over dessert I checked my purchases and made notes on what I had not done. If the spirit moved me, I went back to the mall. Otherwise, I took a power nap.
My granddaughter approved. It’s good for you Lola, she cheered me on. All I know is that a 15-minute nap refreshes, but anything over 20 makes me lazy.
Here we are the day before Christmas Eve and yes, I am done. I guess it was silly to worry and fuss.
But I ask, how did it get to the Eve so fast? I have heard many complain about the lack of time and how fast it’s going. I too was out of breath and haggling for another week, maybe just one more day. I had to make sure everyone on the list had a little something.
And just as I ticked off the last item on my long list, I found the one I had misplaced. I had written this one in October on an unusually quiet evening in Sydney. I was too lazy to get my laptop out of my suitcase so I grabbed the yellow pad beside my bed and started to think Christmas. I made notes.
And as I review them now, with no time left to revise or rewrite, I smile at the optimism I felt when I first wrote it. I was so detailed, so determined. I even wrote myself a reminder for an out-of-town shopping road trip to get lovely, soft leather slippers for my sister in Atlanta. Of course I never got there. And she will never get her slippers.
But I was otherwise preoccupied, what with the wedding preparations I really had nothing to do with but worried about anyway.
I must have been in a strange mood that night because on the right margin, in a space marked off by a dark circle, I had written my Christmas wishes. Not a shopping list, that one. Such as: the names of people I remembered and missed and wished were around to celebrate with me.
I wonder if it was the spirit of Christmas Past that visited that night. But I had also written old recollections. I do that a lot, more lately than ever before.
I was in Sydney with nieces and nephews whose parents I had spent my childhood with. My mind was in throwback mode.
At the height of the season, Mama would be summoned to take us to see Tia Nena’s Belen. I continued the tradition when my children were very little. When we moved to the United States, our celebrations now included watching for Santa Claus. But I never lost my yearning for the light of our parol.
It’s funny how those once-upon-a-time thoughts can bring back images and aromas, flavors and feelings, no matter how long ago they happened.
As a little girl, I always thought noche buena was special. We went to San Beda for Midnight Mass and gathered for a feast immediately after.
Jamon en dulce. A whole leg beautifully sliced. Ensalada rusa. A fancy potato salad with beets, carrots, peas and chicken, garnished with sliced hard-boiled eggs and asparagus spears. Galantina de Magda. She was the housekeeper of the Cabarrus-Lobregat cousins. I have never had another galantina that compares to hers. For dessert, Tia Pilanggoy’s (Corrales) natillas with a caramelized sugar top to die for. Hers was a gigantic version of crème brulée.
During the war we had no such delectable menu for Christmas Eve. The holidays were somber, quiet. We walked in close groups on Calle Guipit for midnight mass at Nazareth Chapel. Part of the convent was used as a halfway house for wounded and sick Japanese soldiers. But we never saw them on Christmas Eve.
Oh, those bittersweet memories of a time so long ago.
The best in us
Now Christmas is here. And look where it finds us: surrounded by hate and anger and wallowing in the muck of corruption and deceit. How do we get out of this sewer and can we still turn it all around?
They say Christmas brings out the best in us. Some call the season a conspiracy of love.
Let us pray then that heaven conspires to overtake us, shake us up and transform us with the Truth that we have so casually and mindlessly turned away.
I watched my umpteenth Christmas show by children from The Bridge School last week. This was precisely their spirit and message.
“The Crown: Serving a Higher King” transported us into a world of innocence and truth. If only we could stay there. Like children.
American poet Grace Noll Crowell says it so well:
Whatever else be lost among the years
Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing
Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears,
Let us hold close one day, remembering
Its poignant meaning for the hearts of men.
Let us get back our childlike faith again.