It’s Christmastime and, though my memory of warm Christmases remain vivid, I feel I now must be prepared emotionally, psychologically for the season or it will pass quickly and I’ll miss the show.
It has never occurred to me that the joy of Christmas would someday elude me, all on my account, my jadedness, especially in a country that holds the record for “the longest, most lavish Christmas in the world.”
I try not to mind the Christmas carols that begin blaring from mall speakers as soon as September rolls in every year, ignoring both the protests and the cheers that accompany songs like “Silent Night” or “Do You Hear What I Hear?” on those early “ber, no longer brr” days when Christmas is four months away.
Back in my time, Christmas was always as soon as there was a chill in the air and sweater weather would bring the knits and the wool out of the back of closets and into suitcases packed for trips to Baguio and Tagaytay, where it would be much cooler, the better to plan “Holy Nights” in front of the hearth or around a bonfire.
That’s a memory too long ago, Baguio now crowded, polluted, the road to it, the zigzagging Kennon Road, hopelessly eroded, no longer lined by the forest of pine trees that used to take my breath away. Worse, global warming has turned all dreams of a White Christmas or a winter wonderland into mere illusions or even delusions (even in the ski towns of the German Alps like Munich and Innsbruck and Salzburg, say, in 2018), and the fireplace, warm and cozy and not quite out of place in the tropical highlands, such as in Baguio back in the day, has now become as anachronistic as wool sweaters at Christmas Eve family gatherings.
Christmas, to me, didn’t use to happen until I woke up in the morning of Dec. 24 to the delicious din of the kitchen—metal pans clanging, glass and crystal clinking, steel cutting through meat or vegetables, lots of pounding stone on stone, or wood on wood, or wood on stone or vice versa, and stuff frying on the stove, cooking on the grill, or boiling in a pot, chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Ok, though I’d say that that was the most vivid of my holiday recollections as a child, having left such an indelible impression on all five senses of mine, ears, nose, eyes, tongue, skin as well as spirit, Christmas did start also in my youth at first glance of a gift wrapped in paper of gold, silver, green, red, or blue, whether or not it had my name on it.
Later, as I grew into my teens, Christmas began along with the frenetic activities that had to do with the upcoming holiday break—Christmas choir rehearsals, Christmas parties, exchange gifts, monito monita, and, as soon as mid-December came around, Dec. 16, to be exact, meetups with friends before, during, or after Simbang Gabi, putobumbong or bibingka optional since I’ve never really been that traditional, not to mention religious over my observance of this most hopeful of Catholic customs and traditions.
Christmas was also a time to be nice and not only because Santa was “making a list and checking it twice” but more because there was always as much cheer as there used to be a chill in the December air, which got everybody in a generous, friendly, bright, and merry mood. I seriously thought that Christmas was a time to be happy and, now that I think about it, growing up, I had this notion that happiness was a potion to which kindness was a necessary ingredient. After all, this was an age when heroes were only two-dimensional characters in fairy tales or feel-good movies, the kind you would have on your list of holiday must-sees. How naive I was that I believed everything, but I consider it a fortune that I did believe in such things as holiday cheer so that the Christmas tree meant something, the mistletoe meant something, the gifts I gave or received meant something, even the carols—“from now on our troubles will be out of sight”— meant a great deal.
So now I’m older, not wiser, I have to catch myself whenever I feel like I’m just going through the motions. It isn’t like Christmastime is no longer magical. It’s just that I’m too busy to enjoy the magic.
I accept, however, that as an adult, albeit as single as I have ever been, I am tasked to keep Christmas alive.
Christmas, after all, is about sharing. Give love on Christmas Day, prescribes the song. As a child, I believed it. And so, as an adult, like the three kings, I must follow yonder star through moors and mountains, fields and fountains, whatever these hurdles must serve as metaphor for, lack of money, lack of time, lack of faith maybe, or the distance between us in this age of the selfie and intellectual snobbery, and spread the magic of Christmas among children, godsons and goddaughters, nephews and nieces in the hope that, when their turn comes, they’ll keep the music playing and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” won’t ever be just a platitude, a meaningless tune, an echo from a past they long for but will never ever have again.
Anyway it’s just once a year, so I resolve to snuggle up with friends and family into a picture worthy of Courier and Ives. As the carol I used to sing in my Christmas mood would say, “These wonderful things are the things we remember all through our lives.”