Cold, not frozen, fruit salad | Inquirer Opinion

Cold, not frozen, fruit salad

For several years when we still had no refrigerator, my mom would take out a huge styro ice box from below our sink every morning before Christmas eve. She would diligently clean every inch of it, wiping and washing off all the dirt and dust that had accumulated on its surface all year round. Then, she would set it aside and start to open cans of fruit cocktail, condensed milk, and all-purpose cream.

It was always my task to drain the fruit cocktail and mix it together with other ingredients like cheese, kaong, and nata de coco. Once this was done, my mother would pour the mixture into one of our aluminum pots and carefully place it inside the ice box along with some blocks of ice. A few minutes before midnight, my mom would finally take the aluminum pot out of the ice box. That way, we would enjoy cold fruit salad during noche buena. Cold, not frozen. But for us, it was enough.


We weren’t rich, and never have been, but such reality did not stop us from celebrating Christmas the best way we could. I don’t remember having lechon or imported wine and cheeses on our noche buena table. What I remember are sweet Filipino spaghetti with hotdogs, fried chicken legs, Pinoy Tasty bread with peanut butter, the transparent bottle of 1.5 liters of Coke, and, yes, my mom’s cold, not frozen, fruit salad.

I don’t remember putting up Christmas lights, setting up a tree, opening presents on Christmas morning. What I do remember is waking up very early on the 25th and changing into my “pamasko” outfit without taking a bath, because the weather was too cold. My cousins and I would then go from house to house, kissing the hands of our ninong, ninang, and other relatives. I felt great joy when they handed me crisp P20 bills, as this meant I could buy burger and fries and play in the arcade when we went to the mall later that day.


I also don’t remember watching holiday-themed films during Christmas eve while sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows. What I remember is this one year when our 15-year-old television set broke down a few months before December, leaving us no traditional Christmas eve programming to watch. In order not to miss the moment when midnight struck, we placed our wall clock atop our dining table and chatted to while away the time.

But our Christmas seasons have not always been merry. One Christmas, my father was with us for the last time. My mom didn’t make fruit salad that year because a relative fetched us from our house and brought us to their place on the 24th. They had a refrigerator so they served us frozen fruit salad during noche buena, but I don’t remember enjoying the same. What I remember was that my father, Tatay, was not with us at the dinner table as he was very sick due to cancer complications. A week later, on New Year’s Day, he left us for good.

Since then, the holiday season has always reminded us of Tatay’s death. Yet we still choose to celebrate Christmas. It was hard at first, but we have learned to go on with our lives while carrying with us the fact that he is gone. As one of the TED talks I watched taught me, we must not “move on” from grief, we must “move forward” with it. It is sacrilege to reduce the life of someone we love to mere memories and simply decide to “move on” from these memories the minute they die.

If there is one thing I realize now, it is that Christmas is not really supposed to be merry all the time, and that there is nothing wrong about that. Christmas is a part of life, and life itself is not always rainbows and unicorns to begin with. Having one bad day doesn’t mean all our remaining days are already marked as bad. Even the death of a family member during the holiday season, no matter how painful it might be, must not determine how we will celebrate the succeeding holidays of our lives.

In time, we were finally able to purchase a two-door refrigerator, and since then our old styro ice box has not seen the light of day. I have to admit that even with Tatay not being around anymore, my life at present remains great—because now I get to enjoy frozen fruit salad every noche buena with my mom, and this time with my stepfather and my sister.


Lyndon John S. de Leon, 28, recently earned his Juris Doctor degree from the John Wesley School of Law and Governance of Wesleyan University-Philippines. He is reviewing for the Bar in 2022.

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TAGS: Christmas, Filipino Christmas, fruit salad, Holiday
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