What Christmas is made of
These are what Christmases are made of for me these days.
Chestnuts, which I buy once they become available in supermarkets and malls, and snack on to bring back “flavor memories” of the season, especially when I was a child and they were precious, pricey items that had to be judiciously divided among us nine children. Now I can afford to buy my own stash, but somehow, while still tasty, they don’t taste as good as when they were rare and very much anticipated. But I eat them anyway, for they are to me what Christmas tastes like.
Through the years, the hubby, who is the family cook, has developed a repertoire of seasonal dishes that we count on as part of holiday traditions much like the Christmas tree and the exchange of gifts. As I write this, we are in Tagaytay, where he is baking walnut and pecan pies which have been our family presents for the last few years. It is actually a joint production, with my sister Chona in the United States sending over bags of nuts which Pie then uses on the pies. I have even conceived of a tagline: “Pies by Pie.” Every year we resolve to have stickers or labels made to attach to our gifts, but each year we realize too late that we have forgotten to do it. Maybe next year?
Like the pies, certain dishes have become treasured as part of the family holiday menu. There is the menudo de rabo, ox tail and hocks cooked with chick peas, blood sausages, baby potatoes and tomato sauce that incredibly tastes even better a day or two after cooking, when after numerous reheating the tendons melt into the sauce, turning it into a gooey, rich concoction.
And then for New Year’s Eve we must have morcon! The recipe and the cooking procedure were handed down from father to son, and Pie is in the process of teaching this to our own son, making our version of morcon a truly generational dish, redolent with memories and experience.
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EVERY year, when December comes around, out comes my collection of belen or nativity scenes. These days, the collection is dominated by sets I bought in Mexico during a trip there a few years ago, but a few other, older sets have survived transfers and storage and even the onslaught of the “Ondoy” floods, which laid to waste much of my collection.
I never tire of arranging the nativity scenes in various corners of my tiny house’s public spaces. One Christmas morning, after the living room was cleared of the debris of the raucous gift-exchange the night before, I found one belen rearranged, with the various figures lined up by height, led by the tiny Baby Jesus in the manger. It turns out a grandnephew had found the circular arrangement going against his idea of mathematical exactness, and so set them in the “right” order. I look forward to his future career as an engineer—or maybe a drill sergeant?
For years, I’d been searching for a distinctly “Filipino” belen. I finally found it recently—St. Joseph depicted as a camisa-chino-wearing farmer; Mary in a baro’t saya; the Three Kings depicted as a lowlander in a barong, an Aeta chieftain, and even a Muslim datu. There is even a pair of barrio cooks roasting a lechon nearby!
But I saw the “Pinoy Belen” just last week, when I dropped by the newly opened religious store of the Rogationist fathers in Tagaytay, and by that time my Christmas budget had been severely depleted. You can guess what my first Christmas purchase next year will be!
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THIS Christmas, too, we welcome a new family member, although she has been part of our celebrations for some years now.
I’m talking of course of my newly minted daughter-in-law Tesh (nee Mission) who officially became family just last November. Their wedding could be the reason Christmas this year has for me the feel of a rushed occasion, since most of our attention, efforts (and funds) went to prepare for the wedding.
But it was a most happy occasion, bringing together friends, family, even those living abroad, and uniting two clans in the marriage of these two young beautiful people.
I could tell Tesh had the makings of a Jimenez-David, with our clan’s penchant for sentiment and attaching meaning to even the most mundane of things, when she told me her reasons for choosing to get married at the St. Peter the Apostle church in Paco. This was the church, she said, in which her own parents, Vic and Terry Mission, had gotten married, and where all three Mission children had been baptized. Ahh, I thought, someone after my own heart!
The reception was held at La Castellana in Intramuros. This is a “heritage home” converted into an events venue, and the setting, with a small fountain in the courtyard, lent an air of both grandness and intimacy to the proceedings. I most enjoyed the “margarita bar,” which was a gift from my cousin Lizelle Jimenez Santillan to the couple and lifted the spirits of everyone present, as well as the candy buffet set up by Judy Anne Cruz-Malabanan, which had guests flocking to it for sweet souvenirs of the occasion.
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OF COURSE, for me and Pie (and I’m sure Terry and Vic share in this) the real meaning of the occasion is that it holds out the possibility of a grandchild crossing our threshold soon.
But in the meantime, we are content with the presence in tomorrow’s celebration of a raft of grandnephews and one grandniece. Special mention goes to Andres, the newest arrival in the family, who in the few times we have encountered him was either asleep or nursing from his mother Coreen, whom everyone else knows as filmmaker Monster Jimenez.
In her blog, Monster wrote to Andres that “I love you even if I still don’t know you.” In his infant state, the little boy certainly remains a cipher, but every parent can testify that it is in that “not knowing” that the greatest joys of parenthood lie.