When it’s summer in the Philippines, everybody thinks of halo-halo – a mixture of sweet beans, macapuno (sweet coconut meat), langka (jackfruit), pinipig (toasted and flattened glutenous rice), saba banana, sago (pearl balls) and sugar, filled with crushed ice and milk, and topped with ice cream, ube (sweet yam) and leche flan. Not me. I’ll pick saba con hielo over any other pinoy dessert on any given day. Call it whatever you like – minatamis na saging, banana with ice, saging con yelo. I just love this stuff.
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.