A favorite memory growing up in Manila was visiting relatives on Christmas Day. We would sik-sik (squeeze into) in my dad’s VW Beetle and drive 70km to Lipa. We would bring my mom’s freshly baked fruitcake, ham from my mom’s suki (trusted vendor), and ice cream cake that we would pick up from Magnolia House in New Manila.
Once in Lipa, we would pass away time playing with cousins, eating leche flan and a ton of other sweets, and entertaining grown ups by reciting poems. My parents were lovers of poetry and my mom taught us all how to declaim.
Backing out from a “performance” and saying, “nahihiya ako (I am embarrassed to do this)” is not something that my mom understood. So up on the gallinera (a chicken coop bench) the performer would stand to recite the latest poem he/she learned.
It is a little different now that we are living in the West Coast. Gifts are boxed and sent via UPS, and presents are ordered online. I sent an 8-pound Honeybaked ham to New York without setting foot in an actual store. And I received an assortment of steaks in the mail just in time for our Noche Buena (Christmas eve dinner).
This year we had Christmas dinner with an uncle. True to my Manila Christmas tradition, we brought freshly baked cookies for dessert, instead of store-bought ones. (I don’t bake fruit cakes)
My children love to read but appear not to be interested in poetry, so declamation as a form of entertainment is out of the question. My son plays the flute and when we asked him to bring it for the special dinner, he didn’t protest.
After our dinner of perfectly cooked prime rib and paella, and before coffee and dessert, my son reminded me that he was going to play his Christmas carols. And play he did. No pep talk needed! My mom would have been proud.