A not-so-blue Christmas

I started with the best of intentions. In January of 2009, I told myself that I would not only shop early for Christmas presents I would also go the extra mile and already wrap them festively and attach a Post-It note identifying the content. I did the former the whole year through, but the latter, well, I did not. Or if I did, apparently not well enough as I am now finding out. Life — the busyness of it — got in the way. What else is new?

So there I was right before Dec. 25, in a wrapping/packaging frenzy that left me alternately relaxed and stressed — but always happy. Yes, for the most part, I do love the craziness of it all.

And how was your Christmas?

Ours was remarkably quiet. And solemn. But very happy, in a very warm way.

It started with Mass, and ended with arroz caldo, ensaymada that arrived as a present, and cups of freshly made hot chocolate. In between we drifted through tables and stories and TV shows, gliding through the eve of Christmas with a palpable feeling of blessedness. We were together as a family, except for my sister Caren and her husband Vince and my brother Jules who spent it in Ormoc. Otherwise, it would have been perfect. Precious time together, it is one of those that matter most. The night was rosy and magical, as if we were wrapped in a bubble of only good feelings. I wish every day could feel that way.

There was this quiet joy and deep peace, a feeling so fresh and welcome after the fury that was the time leading to that very night. Finally it was Christmas, and it felt like Christmas. I do not know why this year felt markedly different, it just did; in a good and sentimental way. Maybe because it was quieter than most. Maybe, too, because prior to this I had the blues. Well, what do you know? My favorite season forever and ever actually found me feeling blue.

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I remember being seated beside Wilma on the set of QTV 11’s The Sweet Life (this was very early in December) and we were on our second episode for the day (we tape a total of three). Jose Mari Chan was singing three Christmas songs very beautifully, one after the other. He has a cool, comforting, sentimental voice that always makes me think of beautiful skylines and evenings in cold Christmas villages, and without knowing how or why, a fat tear trailed down my cheek. Just like that. And then one more, and another one still, like it was a thought that had escaped my mind. There was a pool at one point below both eyes, but through sheer will (and fear that I had to explain to the great and very charming Jose Mari Chan why I was feeling all woozy and weepy while listening to his songs), no more than 10 drops fell down my cheeks. Thank God for small mercies.

I went home that night and stared at our brightly-hued Christmas trees, all three of them standing side by side, patiently waiting to be trimmed with lights and all things happy. Maybe that was why I was blue, I remember thinking then. Maybe I just had to trim the tree to get me started on the right Christmas feeling.

And so I did just that, together with Juliana and the housekeepers. Instead of one humongous tree we have three slimmer, shorter ones standing side by side along one wall, two of them propped on wooden cubes of varying heights that I had asked a handyman to make and paint in white. The bulk of our Christmas décor is as old as us — Richard and me as a couple, I mean — all of 11, almost 12 years. Made of glass, a handful of the ornaments have already fallen apart on us through the Christmas years but I refuse to get upset about that. I am not attached to these things, although I try to take good care of them. But if they break, they break; I let it go. Richard’s blue tree is predominantly blue, mine is magenta, Juliana’s is lime green. The only new décor I bought for the season is dozens of roses in varying sizes, in pinks and reds. They drip all throughout my tree like happy children playing in a park, running here and there, everywhere. The roses peek behind glass balls and crystal drops and next year I think I want to add pearls. My magenta tree is lovely, and if I may say so it is the loveliest it has ever been since I brought it home. It looks romantic. People who come by always stop and stare, and declare how pretty it is. It makes me happy knowing that my rose-filled tree makes people smile. I did not trim the rest of the house. In keeping with the times, it feels like the right thing to do.

Now I do not know exactly when I snapped out of my blues, but thankfully I did. For all my weepiness between the middle part of November and the start of December, I felt better the more I connected with people. There is a healing that happens with every smile, every story, every laugh shared with others. I cannot say that often enough.

I also remember a photo shoot Richard and I squeezed into our schedule one afternoon during a very busy week, walking in the doors of Caramia in Amici after. A priest, Father Armand, who was with us for the shoot, bought us ice cream. It felt like such a warm, nostalgic gesture I again felt like crying, but for happy reasons this time. I felt like a little kid, when ice cream was enough to soothe blue feelings of whatever shape and form. Some things I guess I will never outgrow. Thank God for that. That day, ice cream actually tasted holy.

Then I had a luncheon with a bunch of wonderful ladies old enough to be my mom. We had Hokshi ham and kwapao and suha with kiamoy powder among many others. The meal was peppered with more than just a few laughs and great stories. What joy to be with the wise and happy. Because of that bunch of lovely, funny titas I am not afraid to grow old. They all still lead such full, purposeful lives.

It is the day after Christmas as I write this and I have just opened a handful of presents. The daughter has just stormed through most of hers in a happy whirl, squealing at the things she got. She wears some of them, pink pajamas, furry bedroom slippers, glittery hair accessories. We color a fancy book of fashion together. I am enjoying it as much as she is, we can go on working on it the whole day. The gifts I have opened thus far are making me cry. I feel so loved and blessed, not by the extravagance of it but by what they represent. There was this pair of earrings that I so wanted, but I felt guilty about spending so much on myself when one, I was not even done with my Christmas shopping yet for everyone on my list; and two, it felt like too much of a luxury given how difficult the times are and in light especially of our nation’s recent tragedies. So I walked away with a light heart. But I opened a little woven box on Christmas Eve and lo and behold, there it was, the exact pair I wanted, smiling at me. What my heart desired, given to me as a gift no less. I kept on saying out loud the whole night “God really loves me!’” Of course He loves you, too, just as much as He does the next person. But at that moment I just felt really special in His eyes.

Even the small wishes my heart makes He has taken care of. The latest present I opened today was a cookbook I’ve always wanted ever since I read about it in the papers. I had sent my driver to get me a copy but it was all sold out. I opened a gift bag randomly and in it was the latest Assumption cookbook. I almost jumped for joy. There are more to be opened under the tree but I am saving them for the last of Christmas joys.

More than getting the presents that my heart whispered to God without my being aware of that even, it is this feeling of quiet blessedness, this precious time with loved ones that I cherish the most. There is this sense of family and community, a general niceness about people and places, as if the big world out there is awash in gentle hues of kindness. I so wish this can just go on and on indefinitely, way beyond Christmas.

I still am not done with all the wrapping I have to do, much less the deliveries. I am extremely late this year. But I am relishing the chaos of being submerged in boxes of items, wrapping paper and ribbons. It is a happy place for me, one of my favorite playgrounds. I have till the Feast of the Three Kings to get everything done.

I am walking in a pink bubble of joy right now, the sun shines brightly when I wake up in the morning, the air is cool in the evening, and even the way my daughter calls me “mommy” feels like such a gift. All is well with the world. At best, I am moving fluidly through the days, just falling into every moment. I enjoy how every day since Christmas day has felt like a weekend. I am now missing the Lego blocks of my youth, playing with wooden toys and pretty dolls. I am warm with memories old and new. That is a lot of what Christmas is about.

At night before we go to sleep we pray and sing Do You Hear What I Hear? (I like how the night wind talks to the little lamb in the song). Another one of the presents we unwrapped tonight is a native bag stuffed with tsokolate balls from Batangas, and with that a nice, sturdy ceramic pot and a batirol. Attached to it is a recipe also for the perfect pot of hot chocolate. Juliana and I will prepare that when we wake up tomorrow. God is so good.

Trust that God is in the New Year. How can it not be beautiful?

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