It was, indeed, a merry Christmas. And a happy welcome to the new year. Quiet by most standards, but merry and happy nonetheless. Let me share with you little snippets of the journey.
The same thing happens yearly — come Christmas, I am not as organized in real life as I am in my mind. Ideally, all the gifts and greeting cards would have been sent out way before December 25, but that has yet to happen. And that being so, for every year that rolls in I resolve to start much earlier than usual, although even as I do just that (really, I do) I get waylaid somewhere along the way. Why, I do not know nor do I even want to find out. Ultimately, year in and year out, I find myself cramming, albeit enjoyably, the way I think only I can.
Each year I look at my looooong Christmas list and, like a ritual, I ask myself “Why, oh why, do I put myself through this?” And each year, like a ritual, I take in and do even more than usual. My husband, amused and thankfully very tolerant of my kind of joy, tells me that it is because I just love Christmas and all that comes with it. As simple as that. And yes, I probably really do, because, tired as I always get after the last package has been sealed and sent, all the little pockets of my heart are filled with a kind of happy that lasts way beyond the season.
Despite the same oh-my-goodness-I-am-way-behind-schedule state of being and doing, for Christmas of 2006 there was a marked difference. And to think it was my most hectic to date. The “Centering Prayer,” which I chanced upon back in 2004, has taught me to live in the present moment. Embrace whatever the moment calls for, without worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. Just be in the now, wherever that is, whatever that holds. Today is all we really have. Those little nuggets of wisdom made the mountain of activities doable. One day at a time. Practical wisdom so simple, it is easy to forget. I still had my self-imposed deadlines, but they were flexible ones. I only did what I could, without worrying about what I couldn’t and still had to do.
I understood that it was not just about the gifts and sending them out on time, it was more about the gift of family and friends. If I had many more presents to wrap still but there were people I had to touch base with, then the latter took precedence over the former.
I made a conscious effort to do everything with love, with gratefulness in my heart — whether it was tying a ribbon, being with friends around the dinner table, taking a walk through the village under the balmy night, writing out each Christmas card, preparing the cheese plates, slicing the ham, shampooing my daughter’s hair, singing along with the crowd during simbang gabi. I enjoyed and savored every minute of it.
Let’s talk about the eves — both Christmas and New Year. The former was quiet, with just a handful of people with us. We all fit at one table and Richard led a little prayer before dinner. Except for the lechon that we ordered from Ulcing’s and the ham from Adelina’s that was a gift, everything we enjoyed was cooked at home. Mang Ben, Richard’s sailor friend, was home with us this Christmas and he made spanakopita which is one of his specialties.
Like the wine and conversation, we just flowed with the evening, not bothering to dress up in any special way. Come to think of it we were just in house clothes and slippers, and we ate and talked and ate some more, snacking often on the spiced sunflower seeds that Richard bought by the boxful, from where I do not know. It is addicting, to crack those seeds and just stare into space or listen mindlessly to music and conversation floating in and out of your consciousness.
At one point I wondered why eggnog was always served at Christmastime and so Richard got his computer out and Googled it. I forgot to check, though, why it was so because then he got up to go to the kitchen to actually make some for all of us to try. I saw both of them (him and Juliana) prepare lots of egg yolk and cream and milk; there were other ingredients I cannot quite remember, but the finished product was the color of pale sunshine, a milky yellow not unlike the mango ice candy my sister and I used to buy at Noy Pantang’s store along Bonifacio Street when we were but little girls. Richard poured the finished product in a glass pitcher that he set in the middle of an ice cube-filled glass bowl that had yellow and blue flowers all over it that was a gift from my cousin, Tricia, when I was just a new bride. That was almost 10 years ago and I remember thinking how so very nice it is to have old things in the house; and how much nicer still it is to remember the people who gave those things that, through time, we now call “old.” I often use that bowl when I bake and when I look at it I always remember Tricia and all the crazy, funny things we talked about and did when we were much younger. We used to exchange photos of our crushes; now we exchange photos of our children. How time flies.
The eggnog was good, it tasted like spiced fresh cream and I think I really would not mind having it again next Christmas. We had tea to settle our overstuffed bellies — yet another present that came all the way from our friend Cathie in London — little blossoming lotus tea balls that slowly open up into a very pretty flower when hot water is poured in the pot. The kids, as we adults did, marveled at the prettiness of it all. We slept very late that night, it was actually morning by the time we did, and we naturally had leftovers on Christmas Day. More friends dropped by and after hearing Mass the evening once again stretched out languidly and lazily.
New Year’s Eve had the same cast, with a handful of new faces, and there was again lots of food and laughter and conversation. Juliana and I served the pannetone (also a gift) that we tweaked the night before upon the advice of Priscilla, John’s girlfriend, who said that back in Brazil they would dig a hole in the robust mound of Italian bread speckled with candied fruit, raisins, and nuts and stuff it with vanilla ice cream. It turned out quite delicious and I wonder why I never thought of that. All the pannetones that slipped into our home all these years and I never thought of enjoying it with ice cream. There was dancing too, courtesy of John and Yanee, and at midnight we all went out to enjoy the show collectively put on by different households in neighboring villages — fireworks that were sent off from the ground heavenward, that burst and sparkled in patterns like diamonds in the sky. They were like noisy, shiny bundles of hopes and prayers sent way up high over the clouds. Richard went to the basement and found two bottles of champagne that were 22 years old and we all enjoyed that as we all together hoped, and prayed, for a wonderful New Year. It will be a good year. Faith expects good things to happen.
And like Christmas Day, New Year’s Day was a day to enjoy leftovers, too.
In between the two eves were countless get-togethers but they were all pleasant, comfortable ones; nothing stuffy, forced, or even obligatory. These were times to reconnect and touch base with people and places and memories and that made the season all the more meaningful.
Both celebrations were independent of the patterns and rituals of all my Christmases and New Years past — there was no dressing up, no posed group photos, even. Perhaps as we all go along and have our own families we make our own memories, start new rituals and, like I said, just go with the flow. Things will be what they will be. It was different but still nice, although I missed my family in Ormoc very much. I wish we all could have been together, but don’t we all?
The whole season I made an effort to be attentive to and thankful for whatever it was that the present moment held and that brought a calm to the frenzy that the holidays — with all its to-do’s and must-do’s — always seem to usher in. For me, and I would like to think for Richard and Juliana too, since we were all in it together anyway, it was a time for quiet focus on the things that truly matter, having a wonderful family, a tight circle of friends, humanity, and the grace of never being too busy for a kiss, a smile, a hug, or a kind thought. For this Christmas past, it was really as much about the journey as it was about the destination.