Christmas is a holiday that I cherish. I have many memories of Christmas Eve when I was a little girl growing up in the Philippines. For me, I’ll always remember Christmas at my lolo’s house in Antipolo and spending time with my cousins, aunts, and uncles. It was a time for family reunions. Everyone would get together, pile gifts under our pine-cone Christmas tree, and enjoy the food and drinks. My mom had 5 older sisters and 2 younger brothers. Between them, I had 30+ cousins and we were all very close despite the age differences. One by one the family would arrive at the home. The cousins would get together and we’d play, light up sparklers, and do little skits for the family. Then we would all pile in my uncle’s jeep and go to Midnight Mass. After the mass, we’d come back home for Noche Buena and then distribute the gifts. My lolo would sit by the tree and hand out the presents one by one. My cousins and I would wait until our gifts piled up and then see who had the most presents. Then we’d open them all up together.
What I remember the most was that there was always laughter everywhere. My aunts and uncles would sit, laugh, and gossip. There were neighbors popping by to greet my lolo and lola. The neighborhood kids would come by caroling, shaking their homemade bottle-cap tamborines. And us kids would make so much noise just playing in and out of the house. We would play out in the streets and my lola’s garden enjoying the brisk night air. Then we’d fall asleep, exhausted from the night’s festivities. We’d wake up on Christmas day with the smell of longanisa and tuyo frying, and more laughter everywhere because all the adults would already be up talking.
My last childhood Christmas in the Philippines was in 1988. All the Christmases after that would pale in comparison. My family moved to California around May 1989. My first Christmas in America was quite reserved, more formal, and far from being the joyous, noisy occasion that I have come to expect. It was only my immediate family then –mom, dad, me, and my younger brother (my youngest brother wasn’t born until 1990), and a few other family members who immigrated with us. I don’t even remember having a tree that first year. I remember that we were living in a small one-bedroom apartment at the time, it was cold out, and I tried to be happy with the fake Barbie doll that my aunt had just given me. But I remember that it wasn’t about the doll. I was upset that we weren’t home, and that I wasn’t spending Christmas with my whole family. Of course I knew my parents shared my sentiments. All they could do was talk about my lolo, lola, and our family back home. I remember my parents calling home and passing the phone around. When it was my turn, I remember talking to my Tita Trixie and getting jealous because I could hear my cousins’ laughing in the background.
Time has passed and you can’t go back to the way things were. Even when I went back to the Philippines in the early 90’s, I felt it wasn’t the same. My grandparents have since passed away, some of my aunts and uncles don’t fly back home anymore, and my cousins and I don’t run around playing hide-and-seek at 10 pm. I have realized that Christmas is what you make of it each year.
Since then, I have gotten accustomed to the Christmases here in the U.S. We’ve made our own Christmas traditions and customs. It’s certainly different yet special in their own way. We always have various visitors since we open our home to people who can’t be with their own families. We have our own Noche Buena, but now go to Mass at an earlier time. We enjoy our time together and reflect on the year that passed and the year to come. As long as I'm with the people I love, I realize Christmas will always be something I cherish.
MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone out there! Best wishes to you and your families!