My mother attributes my love for all things Christmas to the fact that she spent the weeks leading up to my birth (I was born Dec. 11) wrapping gifts and trimming the tree. I am guessing that although she knew that once I was pushed gently out of her womb and into the December world, I would need most of her attention, as all newborns do, she was also adamant about not making that an excuse to let go of Christmas. She made sure that all the de rigueur preparations were taken care of prior to checking in the hospital — the house and tree trimmed, the gifts wrapped and bowed, the season’s best full on.
I cannot say for sure what my earliest memory of Christmas is and I don’t remember if I have ever celebrated a birthday without a fully trimmed Christmas tree in sight. Somehow, the two always went together, intertwined so much that one seemed to flow into the other. I had the simplest but happiest birthday celebrations — party spaghetti, hotdogs, birthday cake with a doll on top, games, a piñata, happy little friends. One birthday when I had chicken pox, my mom sat me on a chair that matched the yellow, little square table my sister and I shared when we molded clay or played game boards and sang me a birthday song. When I see the photo I know it happened, I remember the sounds and scents of the day, I remember the Christmas tree in front of me when that photo was taken. I know that even without a party it was still special.
You know how they say first impressions last? Well, it seems to me now that at a very early stage in my life, December was always presented in a way that was nothing but happy. And that is perhaps why I love this month of the year best —because for all that is and isn’t, regardless of how and where it finds you, December comes with a gentleness and kindness that seeps into homes, hearts and lives. It is that one thankfully long stretch of time where we all generally go about our routines with this warm fuzz, an expectant feeling that something good can and will meet us in many random ways. When it is December, there always seems to be something happy just waiting to happen. I love that. And I never ever want to outgrow that expectant feeling.
As a very young girl I remember opening gifts in one go, tearing through package after package on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The days leading to that were my earliest training ground for the virtue of patience — imagine how agonizing it was to have to wait for an appointed time to open gifts as opposed to stripping them of their wrappers as they came through the door. Conversely though, time came when I was very proud of how I could wait to open all my birthday and Christmas presents after the season was over, usually some time in February when things had quieted down. Christmas in February I call it, a tradition I made for myself that has been running for maybe six to eight years now.
Now, I don’t remember exactly when I stopped believing in Santa, or if it bothered me to know he was human, and not this mystic round being forever clothed in red who never got dirty going down chimneys all over the world. I do have this distinct memory of carrying on with tradition by not bursting the bubble for my younger brothers even as I already knew Santa was just Mommy and Daddy, coaching them instead to believe in and write letters to Mr. Ho Ho Ho, at the same time trying to do my parents a favor by gently influencing my siblings to ask for specific toys that I knew my parents had already bought for them.
Mommy is a giver. She is just one of those people who was born with an open hand, and Christmas is a perfect match for that DNA. In the province back in those days, most everything was an improvisation of what the bigger cities had. Nobody really sold white boxes, or pre-shaped ribbon, or tissue to cushion gifts. And so all year round Mommy and the yayas would save boxes that originally held chocolates, Kleenex, cereal — most anything sturdy and big enough to be flattened and restructured into some semblance of a square or a rectangle to hold the pretty presents that were to be given away. The box gave absolutely no indication and had no connection with the gift it concealed. It was simply a means to an end, and it was always wrapped anyway with one of those shiny foil wrappers printed with bells and Santa’s smiling face (back then, those were the only ones available there).
Growing up and turning into an adult, with a home and family of my own, has not diminished all the luster and the warmth December has always given me. No matter what point I am in my life, it is the one season that bundles up all that is right and happy in a world that is not always that way. I love the feasts and the plenty, and conversely I even love how the wallet seems more empty! For me, it is a lesson in detachment, a happy reminder that giving always comes with its own brand of joy. I love how all the love just keeps going round and round. I am a believer in the magic of Christmas, to the point that if I find myself feeling blue at any time of the year I play Christmas songs.
Christmas this year will be very different for me. Busy as I am with work in the district because of typhoon Yolanda I already know I will not be able to do even a fourth of my usual December routine. But I am at that stage where I am very respectful of the rhythm of things. Christmas does not come with conditions. It is beautiul in plenty, ironically maybe even more so in need. Its meaning stays true. All I want now is to glide through the season gracefully. To be mindful of the blessings that abound — being given the privilege to do the work I do, being able to sleep a child’s sleep each night. I am thankful for the many opportunities to break bread with family and friends, to have the cool nights pierced only by the tinkle of happy laughter and nice conversation, for lips that touch warm cups of broth or chocolate. And the fruitcake, let me not forget the fruitcake! I love it as is and I want it to be part of all my Christmases! I love the gifts that leave the door and those that enter. They need not be fancy in any way, they can just be happy thoughts and little tokens of gratitude for all that the year has brought. I even can live with the weight gain and the sighs that come with it; after all, those are just evidences of having indulged too much, which is acceptable any way you look at it. Oh, and the songs. Thank God for all those Christmas songs.
I love everything about Christmas in a measure that makes me tear up happily because for me, it just always feels like all the parts of life come together, or at least try to, in the best way possible. And that can only be a good thing.
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