This must be one of, if not my favorite, Christmas season to date.
For many Christmases past, I cannot honestly say I was ever fully in the moment as it happened. I would be half in it — yes/maybe — but the rest of me would be making and going through lists in my head, rushing through meals and conversations because there was always some place else to go to, a next event, a next stop. And then there would be that stretch of time when I would go sleepless for many nights in a row just so I could dispatch as many wrapped presents as I could, the same rendering me exhausted and unproductive the next day. Plus forever last-minute shopping on top of all that. Simply put, I was huffing and puffing through the days.
This year’s holiday season has been markedly different in that I have given myself permission to be still; to steep and linger in the moment, fully present and aware of what it holds. I took pleasure in sitting in the quiet of the afternoon, in those rare moments when I find myself alone, to enjoy a cup of coffee, delicious fruitcake on a plate right in front of me. Tita Cynthia has thankfully baked Lola Lydia’s traditional Irish Fruitcake this season, and it is as delicious as I remember it to be. My friend Denise, bless her, has sent me 10 boxes of my other favorite fruitcake so that I can enjoy it the whole year through. Tita Nellie has also sent me her own beautiful homemade fruitcake — always delicious, resonant of how things can and will go right. Oh, and she makes the best rum cake, too. I call it the Sexy Rum Cake, decadent but subtle in taste, with just the right level of spike in it. (For orders, text her at 0917-8500124.) I enjoyed my favorite ice cream from Milky Way, in cheese and avocado flavors, unmindful of the fact that it will find its happy way to my hips at some point. It is my favorite season, after all. The most wonderful time of the year. I shall enjoy it in taste, flavor, sound.
On Dec. 23, I was frantically trying to find someone who would still accept an order of caviar pie but I hit a wall. No one could accommodate my order anymore, given the short notice, and besides, it apparently takes a day to set. This non-cook did not have the foresight to figure that out. Juliana, who loves caviar pie, was quite sad. I was, too. Why, oh why, did I not think of that earlier? Juliana says she prayed in the car for caviar pie to find its way to us and on Christmas Eve, I saw in the refrigerator a most precious package. Thank you, Therese! You were our answered prayer. The caviar pie you sent made an already beautiful night even more so.
And so we celebrated Christmas Eve very quietly at home. The dinner menu was dictated by presents that found their way to our doorstep — fruit and cheese that I laid out on a slab of marble given to us many years ago, homemade pork barbecue leftover adobo, fresh corned beef. Yaya Lita made biko (sweetened sticky rice) as she traditionally does each Christmas, something she has been doing as a child in their own home. Richard made the Barefoot Contessa’s Hot White Chocolate with Orange Grand Marnier based on sketchy instructions that stayed in my head when I watched the recipe shared on TV. It was delicious and festive, and if Christmas was a drink, this could easily be it.
But first, Mass. The priest gave a beautiful sermon about giving and receiving, the sharing of one’s self with others. Juliana and I set the dinner table, using pretty plates given by Candy two Christmases ago. As Sam Smith and Rod Stewart sang beautfiul Christmas songs, we spent time as a family, joined by a couple of friends, our souls nourished by the gift of being with loved ones during a most blessed season. It was an easy, relaxed evening. Midnight snacks came courtesy of a big and beautiful red hard box from Mayor Len Alonte of Binan. In it were products from the City of Binan — chicharon bituka (that we ate with native vinegar that was, again, a gift), pastillas, nuts, a most delicious ube candy folded like a thick blanket, with yema filling in between. We took photos by the sofa, we drank wine in crystal that was passed on to me by the family of Tito Vinci who passed away earlier this year. I remembered him fondly, with every sip I took from those wine glasses, thankful in my heart to have known him while he was alive — a good man with perfect diction who read Shakespeare at least once a year. He used to call me on my birthday and sing the “Birthday Song.” He was very cute and endearing that way. Merry Christmas to you, Tito Vince. Wherever you are.
I haven’t been very efficient this year, in as far as Christmas preparations go. I regret not having been able to do the Simbang Gabi, and to this day I continue to shop for and wrap presents, at a pace of about five to 10 presents per night. I immensely enjoy the ritual though, and I wish it could go on much longer than just until the feast of the Three Kings on Jan. 6. The deliveries have been sort of maskipaps, too. In the past, I would complete batches of gifts according to the area of delivery. This year, the driver has had to make multiple trips per area. Oh well, not much I can do about that now. Not being obsessive about it has afforded me the chance to enjoy the season more, and for that I am very thankful. Imperfection has its rewards. I love the long meals and the happy conversations, all this time spent with family and friends.
My mom kept me company tonight as I wrapped another batch of presents. She says she was doing exactly the same thing while carrying me in her womb. I am a December child in every way possible, she tells me. I love that I am. And I love that I can just be.
With the new year upon us, here’s hoping you are enjoying the season in as many shades of happy as I am.