My Christmas story
Of the 21 Christmases I’ve spent in this ever-changing world, half the number were spent overseas. And I can tell you this: There is absolutely no place in the world that comes close to the Christmas spirit in the Philippines. Sure, in the West they have a white Christmas, filled with jolly good tidings, family gatherings in front of a roaring fire, and a ton of snow outside. They may have the brightest decor, or the cheeriest carols, but they’re nowhere close to what we have here.
Christmas is best spent with our loved ones, the people we care most about. It’s about giving and sharing what we have, with no expectations in return. Love, joy and peace—these are what Christmas promises, and there’s no better way to enjoy them than at home.
Home to our family is our ancestral house in Guagua, Pampanga. We’d travel two hours from Manila every year, whenever we don’t go abroad, to have a family reunion. Well, it’s no longer a very rural place because progress has taken its toll on this beautiful, peaceful municipality. Nonetheless, it is still a laid-back, small town where everyone knows everyone else.
The plaza, located in the center of the municipality, screams progress from every angle. There was only one rural bank there back then, but now there is a hall of big local banks; on the once-empty space stand monuments and wishing fountains. The area screams modernity, but the church with its brick exterior neutralizes all things garish and new. The bell, which is 200 years old, sits atop it, unfazed by the recent changes in its environment.
Laughing children run and play, their parents letting them freely wander while keeping an eye on them. Vendors sell all types of delicacies and drinks after every Simbang Gabi. Such is the picturesque scene I encounter whenever I’m home for Christmas.
Apart from the festive atmosphere, our ancestral house packs its own (familiar) surprises. The preparations, the holiday food, as well as the stories and the company, make up much of our family memories. At the midnight on Christmas Eve, my grandmother would always serve arroz caldo, along with delicacies such as suman, puto bumbong and bibingka lined up on the table, together with champorado. This is our typical noche buena—simple yet indulgent.
On Christmas morning, my grandmother would whip up her famous tsokolate, a drink made of tablea dissolved in hot water and mixed with a wooden whisk called batirol, with pinipig as an added treat. Sinangag and tocino with atchara make up the rest of the breakfast menu, sometimes with some chicharon on the side.
We’d spend a couple more days in Guagua before packing up and heading back to a very busy Manila.
Home is where the heart will always be, and home to me is a place where everyone dear is around me, with food on the table and stories to share. This is my Christmas story.
Daphne Ashley Sze, 21, is due to graduate from De La Salle University with a degree in applied economics and applied corporate management. She says she enjoys traveling and creating her “own adventures.”
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