“We’re not going to anywhere this Christmas,” Alvin Oon sings to the tune of “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” It caught my ear—never mind its awkward grammar—and made me smile and think of all the usual places we won’t be this Christmas.
Let me start with our yearly trip to Divi (as Divisoria is fondly called)—that is definitely off the table for us, although obviously not for those hordes of shoppers shown on TV who couldn’t resist it and, as a health concession, go shopping masked and face-shielded. The place did look just about as crowded as I remember from prepandemic times.
We used to go on a date reached by consensus among us RATS—Regina (Ninit), Ana Belen (Bea), me, Teresita (Chit), and Sylvia as to the date, time, and meeting place and ride in one car. As all our lakad, it was planned meticulously, like a raid—early morning to beat the hellish like-minded crowd and for easier parking.
We three cousins and our BFF, Bea, executed our plans to precision. We also wore our Divi outfits, slash-proof bags, and all-weather shoes. For security and practical purposes, we each brought along a multipurpose kasambahay—handbag and cell phone carrier, caregiver, and bodyguard all in one. They made sure we brought home the right packages. They rode in the other car.
This was the day we bought our Foundation’s yearly gifts for the elderly men and women of the Hospicio de San Jose and our workers and gardeners at Arroceros Park, as well as wholesale gifts for the general others. It was also time to replenish our stock of boxes and gift-wrapping paper. Lunch was something we always looked forward to—Chinese at the fast-food place upstairs. When all shopping was done, we stopped for fresh fruits, hot castañas, garlic peanuts, and bicho-bicho, then headed home, beating the traffic, again as planned.
I’m skipping Quiapo, too, another Christmas destination, this time with my only daughter, Gia. Amazing how almost all imported baking ingredients for fruitcakes and also Christmas goodies could be found beside the wet market. Before going home, another must, was a stop at Excelente, for ham and ham bone, and, of course, the original hopia, which seemed to be getting smaller every year, although ever as flaky and tasty. We’d eat some in the car, alternating with hot castañas.
Perhaps most nostalgically painful is to have to cancel Baguio Christmas—and also Easter earlier in this pandemic year—for which we’d have made hotel bookings months ahead. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to the cool mountains in December, usually with my youngest granddaughter, Mona. She was happiest whenever a playmate like Vergel’s granddaughter Mavis joined us.
We’re going to miss the Country Club as someone’s guests, and the Manor, where they had the best Christmas and Easter decorations and musical shows. We loved the food in both places—and, oh, the native strawberries! It’s the spot of my fondest memories from every stage of my life and definitely one of the first places we will visit as soon as we’re out of this pandemic.
Hitting a chord
We won’t be at my daughter’s place this Christmas Eve, either, for the traditional early dinner of turkey, with all the trimmings, and my pote Gallego soup. She would usually bake a cherry pie for dessert, along with the usual Christmas goodies, cookies and fruitcakes with slivers of queso de bola. From dinner we would all go to midnight Mass, happily moved two hours earlier. We would open gifts over coffee and fruitcake, after finishing the Asti Spumante, of course.
I could cry just to think we won’t be at cousin Ninit’s on Christmas Day, either. For the past 40 years that’s where my whole family would enjoy a late Christmas lunch. That was when we saw not only three generations of Paternos, but the usual long-lost relatives and friends from here or abroad. One thing we could always count on was superb food and excellent company. Only by 4 p.m. would one by one guests be saying goodbye, just in time for everybody to take siesta before a simple dinner back home.
No matter how far or how long it took, all those wonderful Christmas destinations would end with me and Vergel all by ourselves. We’d be happy to be back in the familiar comforts of home and with each other, but loving every minute of what happened in between. This Christmas it will begin and end the same way, with just the two of us and nothing in between.
Oon, who has to be foreign to the English language, adapted his charming and childlike version of the original to the familiar tune and changed the lyrics. Nevertheless, it hit a chord.
In the spirit of the new normal—of looking at what really matters (please overlook the strange grammar and sentence construction) and sing along with me the last refrain: “We’re not going to anywhere this Christmas, / stay at home, indoors, / but most importantly / is to have you here with me, / who could ask for more? / So merry Christmas to all!”