Two different Filipino Christmas experiences
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-12-25
There are very distinct differences between the Christmases we’ve had when Diosdado Macapagal was in Malacañang and the ones with his daughter Gloria more than four decades later.

I’m grateful to have seen what it was like living in the good ole days of the 60’s, a kind period in our history. That was the time when the daily wage was P4 and actually bought more than today’s daily wage. It was also a time when the rich, the middle class and the poor showed more respect for each other.

In the 1960s, traditional Christmas fare like queso de bola and Chinese ham were enjoyed by most families coming from different income levels. Times were relatively easy and people celebrated Christmas with dignity and optimism.

In those days, lazy people earned less, period. Today, the poor can work beyond required hours and still end up poorer. This is why our poor have no other choice but to seek opportunities overseas, hoping to break that miserable cycle of poverty.

Life under Diosdado Macapagal was easy and there were even second jobs available for those who wanted to earn more. Opportunity was aplenty then and it was possible for students who had not completed College courses to land a job in their chosen careers.

These days, in the era of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA), you can have a degree from De La Salle University and still fail to land a job in your chosen career. I have a nephew who studied in De La Salle to be one thing and ended up working in a call center. Today, you grab whatever comes your way.

Our family has always had a set of expectations on how we want to celebrate Christmas. We must be together is first and foremost. We must have the family Christmas tree, the gathering point in the house.

At night, we’d turn off all the lights so that we would get to enjoy the soft whispering fizz of the multi-colored Noma Bubble Lights on our Christmas tree. Depending on our mood each year, we’d have a pine tree or a stripped tree which my brother Fred would painstakingly paint white.

Among our family friends who sent us Christmas gifts, there was one I particularly looked forward to — the most delicious Chicken Relleno ever made which Dad’s Chinese friend gave us every year. I don’t know what divine ingredients they made the stuffing with — but I’d hustle, fight and grab more than my share of that delightful dish.

I’d even go to such lengths as to slyly suggest to my other younger brood not to touch it as it is simply too ‘awful’. I’d conveniently offer to find a Christian home for it.

I’d get my usual P10 Christmas gift from our neighbors, the Matela family. That was a respectable amount then, especially when one considers that the minimum daily wage was only P4. With P10, I could see a first run movie and still enjoy a good repast after the screening.

Where we would perhaps envy the kids of today is the abundance of toys that are now available from Toys R Us, a kid’s wonderland we never had then. My Dad never intended to make a soldier out of me — nor a gangster I assure you — but somehow I always received a gun during eight out of ten Christmases of my youth.

Nothing is sadder than the faces of deprived children who can only watch those who have what they crave to be given on Christmas Day. Perhaps the only sadder hearts would be the parents of these children who missed their simple joys on Christmas. And these days we have many such parents and children.

Our Mom had a soft spot in her heart for orphans and she took it upon herself to take care of one orphaned family. She would supply them every month with foodstuffs, clothes and other basic necessities.

During Christmas, Mom made sure that they also had most of the food Filipinos crave for on Noche Buena. I never forgot the gratitude expressed on the faces of that orphaned brood every time they came to visit Mom at the set day of the month.

I was 17 when our Mom died and 21 when Dad joined her in the next life. I was their eldest child.

Somebody up there took care of us and provided for our needs just like Mom took care of her orphans. Somehow, we all made it through life and enjoyed having our own little successes and loving families.

Thus, for us it is hard not to believe in karma — that good deeds return to you a hundred fold and that bad deeds will exact its toll at some later time. Today, we get together like other Filipino families and try to pass on to our next generation that Christmas tradition Mom and Dad had bequeathed us.

One thing we learned from Christmas — a good or bad ruler is never an impediment for sharing love. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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