The holiday rush has finally gotten to me. I thought I was fending it off quite nicely, but here I am staring at a mile-long list of who to get gifts for, and I have run out of time. What to do?
Still reeling from jet lag and a God-awful allergy that keeps me up nights, I have finally thrown in the towel and have to admit that I am in no shape to do any more.
All I can do is keep reminding myself that it is not about the gifts or the abundance of goodies on the table.
It is about celebrating with family and friends and keeping alive the spirit of the Savior’s birth.
Then I get a sudden thought: My Christmas tree looks bare. What size does Lucas wear?
Oh no! It is crunch time at the malls. The one closest to us is a nightmare with all access roads at a standstill. Who is the brave soul who will dare rush in there for a last-minute purchase?
Tell me again. Christmas is about the baby born on that holy night in a little town of Bethlehem, when the shepherds heard the herald angels sing. Remind me, so I can forget this earthly chaos and feel some of that heavenly peace.
The other night, I went to bed early but was too tired to sleep. With my lights out and cozy under the covers, my thoughts wandered off to Christmases once upon a long time ago.
I remember going to Beaterio de Santa Catalina to visit my father’s sister Rosario, a Dominican nun. We would wear our newest dresses, hats and shoes. Even our socks were special. Calcetines calados, they were called. We felt elegant. I loved running up and down the hallways and listening to the sounds my feet made. The echo was awesome. Nobody shushed us. It was Christmas after all.
Papa’s brothers and their families came, too, and it was a happy reunion of cousins. In the parlor there were long tables laden with jamon en dulce, ensalada Rusa and galantina, an assortment of desserts and candy. The solemn atmosphere of the convent took on a different air when we were there. There was laughter and all kinds of cheerful banter. Even the nuns lost their usual somber composure. They smiled.
My dad and his clan were an upbeat bunch. It always felt like Christmas around them.
Tia Rosarito la monja was funny and a great storyteller. I treasure the ones she told us about when they were little, how difficult it was for them after their parents died and how some of her brothers, including my dad, the youngest of 12, spent years in Hospicio de San Jose.
I still marvel that I never heard them say anything negative about their orphanage experience.
I have wonderful memories of our Christmas veladas in Holy Ghost College. There was no auditorium when I was in grade school. Our “shows” were staged in an area under the chapel. Sister Edgaria, a tiny German nun played our music.
Every year we recreated the scene of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, live. My sister was always Mary, or at least one of the angels. I was forever typecast as a sleepy shepherd in the tableau, or one of the village people, someone in the crowd without a name.
Then Pearl Harbor happened and messed things up. When the war was over we left Calle Legarda. Christmas in San Juan was great. But it was never the same. We were all grown up then.
But we still visited Tia Nena’s belen. That was always on our agenda.
Does Casino Español still do their Fiesta de Los Tres Reyes? By the way, the Bible does not mention three kings. Did you know that? It refers to the prominent visitors as the magi, or “wise men” who, led by the star, traveled to Bethlehem to find Jesus. Interesting.
They say, “Christmas is the keeping place for memories of our innocence.”
That’s true. Because suddenly I am awash in a flood of bittersweet musings of a time in my life that I thought I had forgotten. Perhaps my recent visit to America had something to do with that.
I lived in the land of DIY for several decades. Born and raised in Manila, I was out of my element. It was not easy to do Christmas. I had a job. There were obligations. Bills had to be paid. The kids were little. I tried to run a tight ship. It was exhausting. We had no time for leisure.
I did what I could to make the season festive. I trimmed the tree, cooked and cleaned, and shopped on a shoestring budget. I remember my box of special ornaments. Each year I made sure the tree had our favorite pieces: the scuffed and faded gingerbread boy, an old Raggedy Ann doll with a missing shoe, and a capiz parol to remind us of home, of where we came from and where our hearts belonged.
Whatever happened to that box? Who knows? We moved so many times. Maybe it is at the bottom of a dustbin in Hawaii, waiting to be found.
Today I look back on those difficult days and I smile. What an amazing time that was. I cried a lot. I learned a lot.
Then I came home. All is well.
God is good.
And as another Christmas dawns, my heart will sing:
“Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me.”