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Christmas, Children, Magic And Memories

Silver and gold. Red and green. Winking lights. The glimmer of tinsel in the air. The pungent smell of fresh pine wafting through the house. Christmas day at last.

My three boys wake up at 7 and rush to our Christmas tree, which sits in the den against the bookcase. My husband and I, sleepy but sharing their excitement, join them. The tree proudly displays its browning needles and decorations that twirl in expectation. The children rummage through the colorful boxes, which they have categorized, counted, pondered over-forever, they think. The oldest one starts grouping the boxes: Daddy's pile of gifts, Mommy's, Christopher's, Alexander's, and Andrew's.

Family tradition dictates that the youngest opens his presents first, but Andrew is only two and too young to understand that underneath the pretty paper are toys, books, and clothes for him. The older boys help him open the first few boxes, then he catches on and eagerly rips the paper off his other gifts.

The middle child has his turn and he studies his pile philosophically. Which to open first-the little box, or the big one? The one wrapped plainly or the one in fancy, shiny paper with a huge ribbon sitting on top? He picks up a box, returns it; chooses another; returns that, too, until the oldest one loses his patience and tells him to just get done with it.

The oldest one opens his presents, then I open mine, and finally my husband has his turn. The children giggle and play with their action figures, trucks, balls, and other toys. They are breathless with joy and excitement. The five of us sit in that den feeling the magical glow of being loved and of loving.

As I watch the children I remember a Christmas, years ago. It shines in my mind with perfection. I was eight and believed in encantados, the giant agta in our backyard and, most important, Santa Claus. You see, I had seen one like it someplace-! forget where-but I hankered for the thimble-sized cups that nestled in small translucent saucers. There was a graceful teapot half the size of my finger. The creamer and sugar container had handles that curved flawlessly. All the pieces had tiny hand- painted pink roses.

I wanted the tea set. My doll wanted it, too, I thought. I could pour Coke into the teapot, pretend it was tea and serve my doll a cup. The two of us could have merienda under the caimito tree.

I wrote a letter to Santa, sending him my greetings, wishing he, Mrs. Claus, and the elves were all right. In a casual way I asked for the tea set. I didn't describe it in my letter. No need. He'd know. He was magical after all.

I waited the holidays out. I watched the processions with the Baby Jesus go from house to house asking for church donations. I listened to the serenaders sing, Ang Pasko ay Sumapit and O ilaw. The paper lanterns above me, shaped like stars with streaming tails, spun in the wind.

When Christmas eve came, I helped prepare the ham for the noche buena, and I watched with sad resignation the slaughter of the suckling pig-we had to have our lechon. I went to bed at 8 and Mama woke me at II. I slipped on my new blue dress with the smocking and chicken embroidery. The entire family-parents, two sisters, brother, and I-went to church to hear midnight Mass. I dozed off occasionally and succeeded in staying awake by gazing at the giant nativity set near the altar. The Baby Jesus was in His crib at last.

After Mass, we had our noche buena. We children scrambled for the coins and candies at the traditional sabwag. I fought for and got the lechon's tail, which I chewed for a long time, flaunting this bit of triumph in front of my siblings. We stayed up until dawn.

In the morning I received the miniature China tea set which up to now sits in my mother's cabinet, a silent memorial to that perfect Christmas years ago.

The sun's rays strike my face. I feel its warmth, feel alive. I watch my children and hope that they will carry with them for always the memory of a perfect Christmas.

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