I have had only celebrated Christmas outside of the Philippines in two occasions: in 2014 when the family lived in Guangzhou, China and in 2015 when we experienced a White Christmas in Montana, USA.
In both instances, I was already crying before the clock even registered it’s midnight.
My husband was puzzled because his perky, ever-active, glucose-fueled wife asked for fireworks, Filipinos-style spaghetti, fruit salad and … wait for it … videoke machine.
In China, where Christmas is not the biggest of holidays, my homesickness was temporarily abated by a giant Christmas tree which the management of the Garden Hotel Apartments thoughtfully placed at the lobby. The three-man band of Filipino musicians played “Pasko Na Naman” and “Sana Ngayong Pasko” when most of the people in the crowd were already drunk and beside themselves. I was tipsy after what felt like an eternity of drinking red wine, thinking it would have been better if there was tuba (coconut wine) and some cola shared on a round table with my brothers, sister and cousins.
But I was there sitting, crying, feeling nostalgic of my childhood days when I would join my peers for marathon house-to house gigs to sing Christmas carols in exchange for spare change from accommodating homeowners.
In America last year, dinner food was consumed even before sundown. Lights were turned off before 8:00 p.m. I didn’t have Filipino friends so Christmas Eve was as cold as it can get. I imagined the merrymaking at my mother’s home, my brothers’ banters, my sister’s sweet voice and the barangay disco where everyone danced even those with two left feet. It was my first White Christmas in beautiful Montana. My husband’s daughter, Danielle, celebrated Christmas with us, the twins Nicholas and Antoinette, and then three-month-old Jeffrey Jr.
It meant a lot to Jeff to have all of his four children under one roof and my heart, although homesick for the Philippines, found joy in the smiles of my husband.
But nothing beats Christmas in my dear motherland.
I woke up on September first and I literally smelled Christmas like Lorelai Gilmore’s gift of smelling snow even before it falls. No Christmas song was played. No snow either, obviously. Something in the wind that morning told me that this year will be another epic Christmas celebration.
Two weeks ago, I attended the twins’ Christmas party.
Jollibee was there.
The mothers brought food potluck style. I brought flavor-of-the-road ice cream. I had so much fun serving mothers and children scoop after scoop of “dirty” ice cream. The line was long and didn’t look like it will ever end. When all 35 children and 45 adults had their fill -after repeat requests for more of the cold, creamy delight-there was still enough ice cream to feed an army of soldiers.
I was able to convince Jeff to play Santa Claus that day and distribute loot bags to the children. There was nothing expensive in those 40 bags.
Just candies and chocolates.
But the looks on those children’s faces were more expensive than diamond. They were priceless!
Jeff felt it.
My American husband, who has never experienced Filipino Christmas and is often sheltered from the heartbreaking realities of a Third World Country, saw how little bags of candies brought joy to children and parents.
This month, I attended a storytelling contest at the Philippine Christian Gospel School (PCGS) upon the invitation of my fellow Basadour and PCGS librarian Bea Martinez. The stories in that contest were all Christmas related and the pupils – from Grades 1 to 6 – were beyond talented as they masterfully and wholeheartedly told the stories to an audience composed of children, teachers, and parents. I knew there was so much tension onstage and yet no one left the stage without finishing their stories.
Last Monday, I visited Carbon, one of my favorite places in Cebu, to spend time with some people who were my news sources from the time that I was still starting as a reporter. I spent some time with children playing hide-and-seek by the Unit 2 area of the market and asked them how they plan to celebrate Christmas this year. Two of them said they will hopefully have leftover spaghetti after midnight when a politician’s aide drops by to give them food.
Today, December 24, I look back to the two years I spent Christmas away from the Philippines. I also look back to the many wonderful and meaningful experiences I have been blessed to share with several people which led to this day.
Nobody in this world is problem or worry free. We all have our challenges and issues. But I invite everyone to take time to utter a word of thanks to your Higher Being or to the Universe or Cosmos you are part of. This is the most wonderful time of the year and it’s not just because a song said it is so.
From Casa Ruffolo Uno in Liloan, Cebu, where three mutants reside to devour whatever will be served in tonight’s dining table, we wish everyone a merry and gratitude-filled Christmas!
Just go easy on the ham and lechon!
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