One of the most difficult things to do is to gather one’s thoughts THIS close to THE most artificial deadline of all time! Before today, all important things such as the Christmas brunch and dinner menus and what games to play this year, shall have been discussed and laid out days ago, before the store runs out of honey-glazed ham and before all the pan de sal is sold out. Preferably after Thanksgiving dinner… or maybe during Thanksgiving dinner, while having dessert. And the presents!!! I would be burned in hell for all eternity (or at least till Mother’s day) if I gave Uncle a present and forgot Auntie’s.
It is 8:25 pm, Christmas Eve: All that’s left to do is lay out tomorrow’s outfit and turn on the TV to a non-engaging Christmas movie so sleep comes faster tonight.
Back in the Philippines, this time tonight, folks would be preparing for the Midnight Mass followed by the Noche Buena. After two years, early in my marriage to a haole, trying to acculturate my in-laws into the Filipino ideal of Christmas celebration, I gave up. I came to accept that only diehard Filipino Christmas ritualists can stay up all through Midnight Mass and eat a full meal after.
Three years ago and two, after Britt died, my household got reconstituted with the coming home of my daughter, her husband, and my three grand-kids. During their years away as a military family, they had already developed their own Christmas traditions, in addition to the ones ones my daughter experienced while living at home, which basically was a WASP celebration. Over the years, abetted by my two nieces, I started reshaping our celebration to include cookie-baking and continuing my husband’s tradition of inviting non-residents (many of whom were his graduate students) who had nowhere to go. More recently, I have relinquished organizing of our celebrations to one of the nieces who has a penchant for leading complex family events that include games, food, and libations. Christmas celebration at home now includes cookie-baking a couple of weeks ahead; cookies and milk for Santa who will arrive by sleigh and land on the backyard on Christmas Eve; and gift-opening on Christmas Day followed by brunch, games, and dinner. The all-day Christmas merriment in our home is a late development, my nieces realizing that merry-making has to start from the moment we wake up till after dinner. I am happy to sit back, amused to see my family creating and recreating our Christmas traditions, hoping that they will continue these sentiments when they shall have moved out of the home and into their own households. Just like my son and daughter-in-law have done when they moved to Vancouver BC in 2015, the winter after Britt died.
In the Third Act of my life, I decided to take a secondary role in family events. I provide the venue and all the accoutrements required by an all-day affair. I partake in the cooking, setting up, washing, and putting away but I leave the organizing to the young ones. It’s time for me to sit back and watch them lovingly and with pride as they take ownership of their event.
After Thanksgiving, the house is alive in the happy tumult decorating with tinsel, lights, and glitter. Garlands of green trimmed with gold poinsettias festoon the walls. The tree branches groan with the weight of balls, twigs, ribbons, curlicues, and beads, with lights a-twinkle through their needles. The house smells like a pine forest. Outside, another tree is lit and the deer outlined with lights graze the grass, now perfectly green because of the frequent rain.
There are two prominent floating shelves in kitchen area (my small ranch-style house has an open plan) that for 11 months of the year, normally display three renditions of the Madonna and Child theme from Filipino National Artists and a few pieces of old ethnic baskets that I have collected over the years. These normal occupants take a breather and are kept in the closet while my favorite Christmas decor take their place. On the top shelf, a lone Jim Shore angel holding the Star of Bethlehem looks gently down. On the lower shelf, a Nativity Scene (we call the belen) – the Holy Family and the Three Wise Men painted on split bamboo – stands starkly simple. There are no other adornments.
The Lord allows us to celebrate this Wonderful Day of his birth, in the ways of our particular time, culture, and preferences. It is easy to forget, in the flurry of gift-giving and merry-making, that there is a lesson to be learned from the First Christmas, and, sorry to disappoint but it doesn’t include Rudolph or the Grinch. Jesus’s birth – lowly and quiet – reminds us that its meaning is in its intangible gifts: Peace on earth and goodwill to all. They were true then, and are more true even now, most especially now, when even Truth is deemed negotiable. The gifts of the First Christmas will never be out of fashion: Love, Peace, Joy, and Hope.
May we never forget.
Have a blessed Christmas season and a year ahead that will give us the fruits of our patience, vigilance, and sacrifices.