Coming to terms with Christmas

Isyu 26 Dec 1995

Until last year I always wondered, come December, what it would be like to simply snub Christmas like some people I know who heartily hate the season’s trappings – from the décor na kukutikutitap to the shopping and cooking till you drop (they’d rather drop acid or ecstasy anytime) – but I would always cop out just because the very idea freaked out the kids and their tatay. Besides, I had to admit it, Christmas isn’t all that bad, specially for the family. At least once a year, it gives us the chance to touch base with our larger families, and if only for the children’s sakes, why ever not. Of course I was always sustained by the thought that there’d come a time when the kids would be off on their own (I can hardly wait) and I’d be old enough to retire.

Pero last year, Katrina turned 18 and in lieu of a big party on her birthday (December 22), she settled for a small one. Not out of any great love for her poor parents, however. I mean, it wasn’t to save us the extra expense. It was so she could ask for an extra 3,000 bucks to spend on goodies for giving away to streetchildren on her big day.

She had it all thought out. Sixty bucks per child was not much, but (I had to agree) if she spent it wisely, it could buy enough basic food and maybe a toy and enough candies to sweeten the three days coming. Her tatay, however, was less than enthusiastic. Anak, sey niya, sindikato lang ang makikinabang. Except the sindikato story didn’t faze my unica hija, who was sure there were free-lance streetchildren out there and that she could find them with her good tatay’s help.

She was in charge all the way, from canvassing prices to budgeting to shopping (which included a trip to Divisoria) to bagging to distributing. Each bag contained food for eating at once – two sandwiches (one chicken, one ham; a hundred sandwiches all in all, prepared at the break of dawn para fresh from the bakery ang tinapay) and a tetrapak of fruit juice; also, food that would last – an assortment of cookies and candies to save and / or share; and, for play, either a rubber ball or a plastic badminton set. She cared little for appearances – nothing shiny or showy or glittery, rather the simplest and most sensible, meaning the cheapest paper and plastic bags. She cared more about filling each and every one with her own two hands, para sigurado raw siya na every child gets as much in volume and variety, walang kulang, walang sobra, as every one else.

It was a success, of course, and it felt very good all around. Kahit papaano kasi, bugbog din kaming mga kabahay niya, lalo na ang unica yaya naming si Dorie with whom I shared a deep sigh of relief (thank God she turns 18 only once) the next morning.

Well, a year later, believe it or not, we’re back at it. This time she’s preparing a hundred bags for 75 streetkids and 25 street-lolas and street-lolos; instead of a toy, each lola and lolo gets a pastel-colored face towel and a bath soap. To raise the money, she saved half her daily school allowance for a couple of months (no fancy lunches, no kitkats); the rest her tatay and kuya and I and her lola next-door volunteered in installments as money came in. Right now, a balikbayan uncle is offering to get crayons and pads for the kids, so now I’m wondering what to get the lolos and lolas, maybe candles and matches?

Mahaderang anak that she is, Ina has disabused me of my agenda for a Christmas-less existence. My generation was into making love-not-war and communal living, which meant sharing resources not only on Christmas but all year round. It was hard to sustain, of course, and most of us ended up scrooges or in cynical compromise with the establishment. Now it’s the next generation’s turn and I’m learning a different kind of giving, the selfless and anonymous kind. It’s a whole different trip, and I couldn’t have come up with it myself.

Gotta run. There’s chicken to boil and cheese to grate for the 200 sandwiches we’re making first thing tomorrow. Sana kasing ligaya’t hectic ang inyong Pasko.