Christmas at home will be the New Normal this holiday season. For my generation, it is nothing new; it was our Old Normal.
We were raised by parents and grandparents who lived through the horrors of war and hunger. Our upbringing prepared us for the restrictions and shortages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the old days, no one wondered where to spend Christmas. We all gathered at home—our own or the family’s ancestral home. Traveling to the beach, a resort, or overseas for a respite was unusual.
Because of this family tradition, much time and effort were spent preparing the entire house for the season. Wooden surfaces were scrubbed clean with water and the sandpaper-like is-is leaves. Bamboo floors were polished with dried banana leaves.
Woven grass mats (banig) were aired and sundried. Mosquito nets were washed and inspected for holes. Pillows were emptied , their lumpy old kapok stuffing replaced. Crocheted white window curtains were taken out of old wooden chests.
Preparing for homecoming relatives meant a lot of work in the kitchen. Firewood had to be gathered, dried, and stacked. Big pot and pans were taken out of storage and scrubbed. The pantry was inventoried and supplies were restocked.
Preserves in syrup were bottled: saba bananas, langka, beans, camote. Meats for longanisa were sliced, ground, seasoned, stuffed into intestine casings then hung up to air-dry. Tender cuts of beef and pork were salted and sundried for tapa and tocino.
Neighbors worked in groups making suman, haleya, and tamales, which visitors liked to take home as pasalubong.
Our homes had no refrigerators or freezers. All food was meant to keep at room temperature.
Homemade décor gave homes a holiday lift. The bamboo frames of parols (Christmas lanterns) from past seasons were given new life with cellophane, crepe paper, and papel de Hapon (tissue) by school children who learned the craft in public schools.
All Christmas trees were made from small trees, which abounded in mangrove swamps along riverbanks—api-api and bakawan. They were cut in early December and hung upside down to dry and lose their leaves. The bare branches were then either painted white or covered with strips of green crepe paper.
To decorate the trees, we cut out stars and snowflakes from foil from cigarette packs. Cotton was sprinkled over the trees to simulate snow.
Old Christmas cards and gift wrap paper were cut up and brightened with glitter, then scattered throughout the house.
Even the ordinary walis tinting served as a small Christmas tree when placed upside down and hung with colorful trimmings and ribbons.
That was life in the Old Normal: before malls, internet, cable TV, gadgets, and staycations. Looking back today, I really miss those good old days.