Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Thought Project: Week 4

What Christmas tradition/s do you associate with your family?

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Some of our old Christmas Eve rituals:
*Set up an assembly line to make glazed ham-and-butter sandwiches.
*Roll and wrap up Boysen t-shirts in old newspaper to be given to random visitors.
*Help mom wrap last-minute gifts to be labeled "To:______ From: All of us."
*Have creamy soup made with macaroni, ground beef, and sliced hotdogs, along with the sandwiches, at midnight.
*Have two Noche Buena meals -- one at our house, another at my dad's cousins' house right nextdoor.

- Tish

The simple, basic family reunion :) But then again, reunions in my mother's side of the family are anything but simple. Catastrophic is more like it! It's all part of the holiday hoopla--the 10-hour trip to Bicol, arriving at the compound and then getting mobbed by The Committee of Elders (meaning my lolas and aunties), doing the courtesy house-hopping (and making your presence known so they'd be reminded that have to do a last minute Christmas shopping ;p ), preparing for the Noche Buena (which includes a lot of cooking, tasting [which I'm pretty good at!], singing, bantering, laughing, and a few fights here and there among The Elderly), and of course, the Noche Buena itself. We usually gather at the compound's gazebo and have a little program which nobody really pays attention to. Heehee. Pretty personalized traditions, but traditions nonetheless :)

- Koryn

my younger sister setting the table. dressing up for dinner at home. eating and watching TV.

- Zane

funnily enough? Christmas = Cebu. yeah, i know. I'm weird.

Context: My mother hails from Negros Occidental. My Father grew up in Jolo, later moved to Cebu, convinced his family to move to Cebu from Jolo, then moved to Manila with my mother and brother in tow. You can imagine, therefore, that my family unit was fairly isolated in Manila.

Every Christmas, even after my father had passed away in 1998, was therefore spent in Cebu. Visiting my paternal grandparents, and visiting as well my mother's side of the family who'd scoot over from Negros whenever they could. Christmas basically meant not being in Manila, being far from friends, and being in a fairly unfamiliar city surrounded by relatives who I really only saw once a year.

I make that sound terrible, but it's not as bad as it sounds. For me it cemented what Christmas really means to me as a holiday: spending time with family. When you're in that rebellious, chaotically hormonal landscape of adolescence, it's a drag. But when you're living 17,000kms away from all your loved ones, having spent three consecutive Christmases away from home (and about to spend a fourth), you tend to realize how stupid you were as a kid.

Christmas has never been about gifts. Or decorations. Or carols. Or peace and goodwill to all men. Or even that much of a religious holiday.

Christmas is a day to spend with my family.

Not much more to it.

(thankfully, out here in Spain, I have family to celebrate Christmas with. But it's like Light Beer - no offense to my relatives, whom I love dearly and who have been nothing but wonderful to me since I arrived - it tastes similar, it feels good, but it lacks a certain kick only the genuine article can give you)

- Jon Z.

When I was a young lass growing up in the hinterlands of Texas (alright, not quite, but you get the general idea), Christmas traditions were geared toward the birth of the baby Jesus and Christmas gifts! Well, in my family, anyway.

My brother and sister would watch for the first snowfall of the year and yell, "There's snow! There's snow!" So we would all go outside and try to catch snowflakes on our tongues.

The days before Christmas would be very busy for us, but it was never a burden. There were presentations and songs in church, parties to attend, lights to put up, trees to trim, etc. My dad would be putting up the Christmas lights around the roof, and we'd shout if the lights were awry. There was also the neighbor's pool to look at, because we harbored dreams of it freezing to the core so we could ice skate.


But on to the traditions, right? I'm not supposed to ramble.

On Christmas Eve, we would gather in the living room and watch television until 12 midnight. Then we had license to attack the brightly-colored gifts in the corner. Relatives would come around and drop off gifts and stay for some chow.

Same tradition repeated in millions of households around the world, but still. Look at the gifts waiting for us in the picture!

Once we came back to the Philippines, our Christmas traditions normally start with the gathering of the clan and my father giving a mini-Christmas message. One year, we staged the birth of baby Jesus in my aunt's house. It's always been clear to us: the season has never been about the presents and the parties. Jesus first, everything second.

Now that we're older, some of our traditions have gone the way of the dodo bird. Save for my dad's Christmas message, there's nothing we reprise from last year's Christmas celebrations; our family is never complete. The one thing that we're sure of is that anything goes. Spontaneity is key.

- Sarah

UPDATE: 14 December 2006, 1:23 PM

This post from Djong was sent to me at around five pm yesterday. I never got to posting it. Apologies, Djongers.


UPDATE: 21 December 2006, 4:40 PM

Shelah whined I didn't post her answer here, so here it is (after Djong's). Whiner.


You will always find me in my room on Christmas eve, hiding from the relatives, trying to put a little semblance of order in my room while everyone downstairs is yakking away.

But once I finally get the Scrooge out of me (yes, this happens EVERY year), I join in on the fun: I stuff my face with food (it's usually a potluck thing), then go out to the garage, where tables are set up, to drink beer with my dad and my cousins. Every once in a while, I'd bully a nephew or a niece, coerce them into giving me their gifts.

A lot of relatives and a lot of noise. Plus a lot of food, too. That's what I've gotten used to having at Christmas. I don't think I can ever feel Christmas without all that.

- Djong

When I was younger (and still had semblance of a sense of faith and worship), the 24th meant going to the 9PM Mass and spending some time with my parents’ Church friends. After all the religious rituals, we head home and start snacking on cheese and candies. Yes, we are a family with weird food-combining abilities. By
12 midnight, we’d carve the ham, almost finish the cheese and I drink more wine. After much feasting (and a good amount of wine) we’d open the presents my parents manage to save from our nimble hands.

The 25th is clan day. The first half would be spent with my mother’s side of the family, which often meant drinking sessions with my grandfather (yes, it was him who taught me to drink) and uncles. I remember this particular Christmas when I was 10 and accused of being prissy (since I came from an exclusive school), my mother’s relatives conned me into eating a dog. I DID NOT KNOW IT WAS DOG MEAT. Suffice to say, the trickery taught me not to drink with the pros…well, not until I was 18 and gastronomically mature.


In the late afternoon, we would head for the ancestral house/hangout of my father’s clan. This side of the family has more boys than girls, so my sister and I receive more attention and hugs from relatives. From this clan, I learned several things: a) big eyes are part of clan genetics b) nipple-pinching can be a shocking and painful greeting c) it’s ok to be crazy and loud even when not drunk and d) no matter how bad the fashion choice, the clan will still love you; despite green cycling shorts and pink sneakers. The table is never, NEVER empty. For my father’s family, food running out would be sacrilege to Christmas tradition. Everyone has to eat something every 30 minutes, no matter how full.


For both sides of the family, Yuletide melancholy was never an issue. Depressed or not, the important thing was you were there to partake in food, tradition and family gossip. Such disregard for sadness is cruel and comforting at the same time.

- Shelah