I’ve been based in another country since ’93. If I am not mistaken, I have had about 6 to 7 Christmases spent away from home. Before Cean was born, I would say all those Christmases are the worst I knew in my life. Imagine this scenario: I would always put up a happy face and take refuge in the comfort of strangers but after all the fun and I was nested alone within the confines of my square bedroom that would be the time when the reality of not being with my family sets in, tears were shed while calling my mom until exhausted enough to fall asleep.
What was it back home that I wouldn’t swap for a Christmas in another country though I was young and got to live independently without my parents’ nagging (not to mention that it was a non-Christian country way down south of the Philippines)? Oh I could think of a lot of things…
Seeing my dad hang parols (star lanterns, kaleidoscopic and bright or not) while us kids decorate our home with the Belen depicting that first Christmas, the Nativity Scene, and the Christmas tree when we could finally afford to buy one. Struggling to complete Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo , a traditional nine-day novena of Masses in pre-dawn hours with my ate & kuya for 9 consecutive mornings before Christmas to either obtain special graces, implore special favors, or make special petitions (whichever is your reason). The aroma of native puto bungbong (purple yam glutinous rice dessert) right after the dawn Mass. The visits of carolers going from house to house and what fun we had when we would sometimes turn off the lights to hide from ‘serial carolers.’ The colorful Makati by night. Buying gifts especially the ones for my family and the challenge of hiding them before Christmas day. The Misa de Aguinaldo, the ‘gift mass’ held before the clock strikes 12. Mommy still cleaning the kitchen mess when it’s almost midnight. My dad’s pancit bihon, my mom’s fruit salad, kuya’s sweet & sour fish, ate’s lumpiang shanghai, while I, the youngest, got the simple task of frying the fiesta ham. Oh I am also sure they do miss my leche flan (caramel custard) as I am the only one who knows how to prepare it.
But most of all, for a small family of 5 who lives away from other relatives most of our lives and especially during this season, what I miss is our family togetherness, our simple and sometimes humble Christmas feasts, our ceremonial gift-giving after the Noche Buena, and those few hours before we finally retire to bed when we would sing or talk about anything or just enjoy each other’s company. None of all those drunken partying I’ve done away from home can compare to all these.
On Christmas Eve, everyone awaits the midnight Misa de Aguinaldo (‘Gift Mass’) followed by the most important repast of the year, the Noche Buena. On this night, the Andalucian couplet holds true, ‘Esta noche es noche Buena, y no es noche para dormir.’ (‘This night is a good night, and not a night for sleeping.’)Source: Paskong Pinoy
Now that I have a family of my own, Christmas in a foreign country becomes acceptable. After all, the joy of it is in the privacy of the warm family gathering itself. Although we prefer to go home at least every December or January, circumstances somehow hinder us from doing so, like a project at its busiest period. But then, Christmas in Beijing is different. We get to enjoy white Christmases (but still Asian) as in this part of China Pasko is always accompanied by snow, with our 1st taste of sub-zero chill in the winter of 2001.
Most of the mainlanders may be totally clueless on what really Christmas means but as I see it, it has become a fairly big deal in recent years, at least here in Beijing. It seems everyone has now embraced the tradition as signs of Christmas are everywhere. We have also attended a ceremonial ‘lighting of the tree’ in one of our hotel projects, which was in conjunction with its soft opening. We were even serenaded with carols (both in Mandarin & English) by a group of children dressed in angels. The most common decoration here, aside from the Christmas tree, is Santa Claus & his reindeers, and a snow-covered candy house similar to Hansel & Gretel’s. My son Cean must have gotten his ideas for doodles (shown above) from these.
As I am writing this, we are still unsure if we would be able to fly home. We already have our plane tickets but they were never clear indications of us using them. Once, we cancelled a wonderful trip to Bangkok when a Client refuses to let us go. But I would like my son to experience more of our Paskong Pinoy especially our annual family reunions when we gather to celebrate the joy, warmth, and blessings of the holiday season. With his lola and lolo. For the record, he had a Christmas and 2 New Year’s Days with them. For my parents and my son to be together on these special days is already my gift to them.
With the Spaniards came an entirely new range of ingredients and dishes. Thick, rich stews, sausages, and dishes emphasizing meat and dairy products, they remain a luxury item today. Many show up on the table only at Christmas or fiesta time and are quickly spotted because they retain their Spanish names – relleno, mechado, pochero, leche flan.Source: Philippines by Nancy Freeman
Leche flan, like I said, is usually my contribution for noche buena back home. I was in my mid teens the 1st time I cooked it, the recipe straight from my HS Home Economics textbook. Leche flan, by the way, is caramel custard, custard meaning a sweetened mixture of milk and eggs. Its texture is jelly-like, sweet & smells like vanilla or lemon rind. Check out the history of custard here.
I was also requested many times to prepare lots of it during parties abroad. Somebody even suggested that I could take orders, prepare and sell them. I seriously considered the idea but never found the time to do it.
So here is my recipe. You may use several flan molds but here I chose to use only one. I normally use only the egg yolks although I’ve experimented also on using the egg whites. If I don’t feel lazy, I use the egg whites to make mocha flans. (Sometimes I utilize it as part of my homemade facial mask hahahaha!)
12 egg yolks
1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 tsp of vanilla (the textbook says to use about 1/2 tsp of grated lime zest which I have never tried)
1/2 cup sugar (multiply w/ the no. of flat molds)
In a bowl, combine all the above ingredients except the sugar. Stir lightly so as to prevent bubbles from forming.
Put the sugar (no water) into a stainless steel flan mold. Caramelize in low heat if you don’t want it burnt. Do it in medium heat if you prefer it with a hint of bitterness like I do. Set it aside for few minutes or until the caramel hardens. Strain while pouring the custard mixture into the flan mold. Cover the flan mold and steam for about 30 minutes over low heat. Refrigerate. Serve it upside down on a platter.
Kay sigla ng gabi ang lahat ay kay saya
Nagluto ang ate ng manok na tinola
Sa bahay ng kuya ay mayro’ng litsonan pa
Ang bawat tahanan may handang iba’t iba…
Tayo na giliw magsalo na tayo
Mayro’n na tayong tinapay at keso
Di ba noche buena sa gabing ito
At bukas ay araw ng Pasko…
(Titik at musika ni Levi Celerio at Felipe de Leon)