Nothing captures the beauty of the human heart more than the season of Christmas. Its days are imbued with love, unlike ordinary days. Its theme is the joie de vivre of being part of a family. As we remember the Holy Family, which shaped the rest of the world and us, we become tight brothers and sisters in faith.
Countless accounts have been written about this hallowed time of the year. Each is unique in its own way, much like the manner of greeting our neighbors ‘Merry Christmas’. The words may vary – from Feliz Navidad to Joyeux Noel to Maligayang Pasko, but the atmosphere of warmth and affection certainly does not.
It is a time of forgiveness, thanksgiving and hope. Like the story of two sisters who have not talked for a long, long time but patched up their differences in a Christmas decades later, it is marked by the limitlessness of possibilities. We become grateful for the coming of our Savior and wait in hope for His return. People often look forward to this time, more so in the Philippines. Filipinos love Christmas too much that they pride themselves for having the longest celebration. This usually starts around October or even as early as September and goes all the way to February.
Through a child’s eyes
My own Christmas story is exciting in its own right. Much of it stems from the fact that it is spans many years. I was a four-year old kid when it all begun. The tale of two Christmas starts in this very lucky country, Australia. Honestly, I don’t remember much. There are some recollections here and there, but you can’t expect too much from a four-year-old. What I do remember was that we lived in Sydney, in those days. The weather was hot. I was quite a talkative child. My daily routine was filled mostly with playing and fun. That meant drawing (more like scribbling), watching TV. or assembling my Lego. Life was, indeed, innocent.
I vividly recall my mom putting up our large Christmas tree, a tradition that generated the season’s air in our home. She adorned it with sparkling decorations, from tiny drummers to trumpeting angels, colorful bells and candy canes to shining orbs. A kaleidoscope of lights made it seem alive with a breath-taking star topped it all off. There were also other decorations aside from the memorable tree: frame houses which featured dwarfs doing odd jobs, a humongous banner that proclaimed ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’. My elder sister, achie Jacky and I hung our red and green stockings on the wall to wake up the next morning with it brimming over with gifts from a generous Santa Claus.
Christmas is not nearly as popular as Easter here. The rebirth of Christ holds more significance than His birth. But for our family, deeply devout Catholics, we look forward to it anyway. During this occasion, our image as one “big,” happy family could not be more pronounced. After all, it’s never too late to find heaven in each other, right?
Christmas with carabaos
On September, 19xx, we decided to transfer to the Philippines. Much adjustment was made, especially by me and my sister. A few months earlier, we had a vacation in the tropical country and it was definitely something different. Suddenly, the climate was hot in a way we weren’t used to. Since we settled in the countryside, we were surrounded by long stretches of farmlands. Instead of trains and the trappings of modern society, we got used to cows, chickens and carabaos. Weird!
Our part of the country was quite laid-back, which was good: Down Under is mostly the same. As the years passed by, my Christmas stories continued. As for Santa’s gifts, I stopped receiving them when I was in third year high school. But that really didn’t pose a problem; my other joyful experiences more than made up for it.
I remember when I was nine we spent the holidays in a peaceful, far-away town of our region. In this placid place, there lies a large lot that is home to many relatives. My achie Jacky, my cousins and I went caroling. It was truly awesome. Once we started singing our songs and seeing the smiles of our fine neighbors, I found meaning in the midst of the season of giving. The moment our neighbors warmed up to us, started conversing with us, I found love in them despite their shortcomings in other areas. Spending Christmas with my relatives was also a new experience. It was quite good. To be together and share a meal in the table of brotherhood, that was something even the oceans could encompass.
I also remembered the time we attended the Simbang Gabi (night mass). Actually, not too vividly because I was still sleepy the moment we entered the church. However, the invigorating taste of puto bumbong (steamed rice cake) is something that comes to mind readily. On Christmas Eve we would come together as one family to attend the midnight mass. Afterwards, feeling restored by the Holy Spirit, we would help ourselves to my mom’s first-class cooking, the much-awaited Noche Buena. The food and camaraderie was simply something to remember. And what happens next made me held my breath. It was time to exchange gifts!
We would then get our gifts under the tree and be pleasantly surprised each time. When I was a bit older, I came to notice the beauty of the parols and Christmas lights. Of course, nobody filled their houses and lawns with electric sights like those in Manila, yet it was still a sight to behold. I remarked at the grand spirit of Christmas in the country. People really did change for its sake. Teachers became less strict, neighbors became friendlier and there existed a feeling of unity so real you could almost touch it.
After a lifetime basking in the islands of the Philippines, I went home at last last year. Two weeks later, I would experience my first Christmas here in a while. I am grateful for growing up in the Philippines. It was a means by which my desire to be a great twenty-first century writer took its first steps. If there is one thing that I truly learned back there, it is to work for my own luck. Everything I ever achieved is the result of my hard work and patience. I’ll continue this quest until the sunset of my life.
And so here I am. Things have changed. I no longer reside in the same suburb, but we plan to return to the place of my childhood. Life has come full circle. My last Christmas was as good as any other. In the face of a new chapter in my life, we opened more doors by celebrating with a new number of faces. I watch it in a solemn hush – the air of giving and receiving, touching and accepting, speaking and listening. In my solace I find courage.
On the holy month last year, the neighborhood was a bit plain. Where were all the sights and sounds of a loud season? Are they all camouflaged in the midst of gray people? After twelve years of being accustomed to the noise, I could say that I was “shocked beyond repair,” as my great mentor Sir Ed Verdadero put it. A few houses filled their facades and lawns with tons of Christmas lights, but apparently they were in a contest for the best-lit home in our area.
I am naïve of the secular world though I appear so attracted to it in the view of other people. I value more the unseen things, like faith and love, than my new pair of Reebok The Pump and my slick army jacket. To me, it is not uncommon to dish a mile-wide smile to the precious gifts I receive each and every Christmas. But deep down, I am just a humble person.
At my age, I can, without much reflection, speak about the things I value most in life. It is not my penchant for writing honorable essays and poems, not shooting the gap in the basketball court with impunity or receiving higher learning – all that can be lost. It is being part of a legion of disciples, believing the same blessed Being, hearing the preacher’s homilies and practicing what they preach. Above all, doing the most difficult part and growing day by day. That is, forgiving all those who have insulted me or questioned my place under the sun. I can likewise flourish by forgetting all the troubles my oppressors caused me. If there ever is one immortal image that I will carry as a coat of arms my entire lifetime, it is The Cross. For if God made Man can go through all that suffering and hold not the tiniest hint of a grudge, I could do well in obeying His lead.
I cannot be more thankful for seeing the two sides of the coin, ‘Aussie’ and ‘Pinoy’. The journey continues for me. I know I’ll never be lost, not with the kind of pictures I paint, the words I put together. So now that it’s Christmastime, let’s give ourselves pause. And remark at the beauty of it all.
[i] Published in November-December 2007 issue of Misyon (Philippines)