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My Memories of Christmas

By J. Josefina Guevara-Salonga

When I was my granddaughter's age, (I can't seem to remember anymore, how long ago it was), the thought of Christmas simply did not fail to evoke excitement in my heart. The sound of Christmas carols as they filled the air always managed to give me joy and delight for I considered it even then as a season when everyone feels all set to give and give; a time when the heart swells with gratitude for the many blessings that one has been showered with; a time when one cannot help but think of the many ways by which one can be a blessing to others.

During the first week of December, I remember my sister taking out the Christmas balls, the gold and crystal trimmings, the angels, the silver stars and yards and yards of red and green ribbons, the Christmas lights and boxfuls of decors to adorn our big and small Christmas trees.

My parents then would not settle for an artificial tree so that they made it a point to buy fresh pine trees coming from Baguio, which were usually sold in Plaza Lawton. The smell of pine, they used to say, was the true smell of Christmas. Truly, it was so much fun to decorate the big tree with the whole family taking part in this once-a-year endeavor. The small tree though got to be installed in our house, which was beside our botica. Underneath that small tree were our gifts for one another, which were to be opened only on Christmas day. The young ones (then) meaning myself and my little brother, were given a special treat by Santa Claus (we really thought he came in during the night with his sled). As we opened our eyes on Christmas day, we would find a sockful of money (mostly coins) underneath our pillows. On the huge Christmas socks, which we were made to hang on the baluster of our stairs, were candies and goodies too.

The Simbang Gabi was altogether another story. In our barrio (that's how it was called then), the sign that the 9-day early morning mass was about to begin was the setting up of the puto-bumbong stand right in front of our drugstore. Everyone was of the idea that our next door neighbors, Tia Doñang and Ate Binay, made the best puto-bumbong in town. (I am sure they are still busy catering to St. Peter and his gang up there).  As a tribute to their cooking prowess, even residents of other barrios went all the way to our place to partake of their sumptuous creation, which came with bottomless banaba tea made from fresh banaba leaves boiled in big tin cans. The novelty of it all came from eating the puto-bumbong and sipping the tea while standing.

On Christmas day, families went to church together dressed in their finest outfits. Queso de bola, Chinese ham, embutido and grapes were the usual fare on the breakfast table, no matter what the state of life one was in. Our unmarried auntie, whom we called “nanay” made sure that there was plenty of food on the table all day long. Relatives with children in tow, came and went to make “mano” to my parents and “nanay” and partake of the Christmas fare and the loot bags. All day long, the streets swarmed with happy kids who knocked at every door in the neighborhood, for Christmas gifts.

As for me and my brother, accompanied by a help, we went to our ninangs' and ninongs' houses, a ritual we looked forward to with delight. Coming back home, our bag would be full of toys and cash. What a joy it was unwrapping gifts and counting the money we got. We definitely considered ourselves rich once we got to count fifty pesos. At that time one can buy a glass of our favorite halo-halo for only 5 centavos so that 50 pesos would translate to about a thousand glasses!

FAST FORWARD.

With the passing of time, things have not changed that much though. It may be true that my grandchild may have an entirely different wish list than mine when I was her age.  But the family still has fun putting up the artificial Christmas tree, now with the help of a hired hand. Christmas fare on the table still has the traditional ham, queso de bola and embotido and grapes. Relatives with kids in tow do drop by, this time to make “mano” to Romy and myself.

Notwithstanding the change in the body's metabolism, the grey hair here and there, and the aches and ouches in the morning, I still look forward to Christmas with the same excited anticipation as I did fifty-some years ago. It shall always be for me a time of sharing, forgiving, loving and caring, a time to make up, to renew friendships and give the best of oneself. Indeed, it is and shall always be a great time to share the love of Jesus who is the reason for the season!!




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