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Pasko Na


Christmas was my favorite time of the year growing up.

We lived in a neighborhood that was bustling, always bustling with noise. From the kids that played in their yards, to the “Taho baby!” echoing down the streets in the morning, to the “Basura day! Basura day!” yelled through our gate. Outside the cement wall that fortified our home was one lone coconut tree. I’ve always wanted to climb it, but I was forbidden for fear that I may fall and break myself. I envied the squatter kids and their courage to disobey the warning that the adults shouted at them and climb that magnificent tree. They always came back down with a coconut as their prize.

During December those same kids would use coins to tap on our gate and yell “Tao po! Tao po!” to get our attention. I’d open the door and a group of them would stand there, just beyond my reach, and sing Christmas carols.

“We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas. We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!”

They would shake their home-made noise makers (bottle caps pounded flat, then strewn together on a wire), and pound on their improvised tambourine (two paper plates stapled together with beans or rice inside), and then promptly stuck out their hand for our donation after finishing their carol. We always gave them something, even if they knocked on our door more than once in a night. We did it because despite our humble life, we knew we were more lucky than they.

My dad would hang a string of light bulbs in the garden area, and I would sit there at night sometimes just staring.

We would have queso de bola, kakanin, and pandesal to eat after simbang gabi. My grandma’s church friends would come over, and my dad would sing songs on the guitar until I was too sleepy to understand the lyrics.

We never had a tree. I mean, Christmas trees aren’t really indigenous to the tropics.

Some years I would be lucky to be able to go back to my mom’s probinsya in Pampanga to celebrate with our gigantic family there. We had so many cousins to play with, and the countryside was one big playground to us. We’d chase goats, hesitantly ride the kalabaw, and hold baby chicks in our hands. I’d watch all the women spend days in the kitchen, preparing every banana leaf, every ulam, every grain of rice with the tender touch of love. They’d laugh their loud Kapampangan laughs, and gossip until the only light around was from the fire in the stove.

They always killed a pig for the lechon. I’m not going to describe that.

During Christmas, it felt like colors I had no names for existed in the light of the parols that hung everywhere. That stars descended from the skies to adorn our barrios, to twinkle and shine in magical ways that captured my breath. We didn’t exchange presents, we didn’t go shopping. We just sat in the night, listening to Pilita Corales and Sharon Cuneta and Regine Velasquez and Apo Hiking Society and… eating until there was no room left in our stomachs.



It’s been eighteen years since I’ve spent Christmas in the Philippines.

I’m afraid that I’ve been away too long, that my memories aren’t as truthful and that the important details have been misplaced. I’m afraid that I’ve forgotten what the warmth of the tropical holidays feel like against my skin. How the breeze wiped away the little sweat beads that’s formed on the back of my neck.

In its place is the cool embrace of winter; the white fog that forms when the tropical air trapped in my lungs are exhaled out to the icy nights of San Francisco.

I’ve traded Douglas Firs for Palm trees, ornaments for queso de bola, presents for… presence.

I downloaded Pilita Corales’ Christmas album the other night and soon set out on a mission to download as many Filipino Christmas albums as I could. I found 11.

I laid in the dark that night, and played every single one until I fell asleep.


Christmas was my favorite time of the year growing up.



One Comment leave one →
  1. jazzygreg permalink
    December.24.2011 9:05am

    Lovely story, thanks for sharing!

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