Saturday, December 31, 2005

13 and round!

New Year’s Eve is as busy as Christmas Eve is in most Filipino households – the cooking and cleaning that comes – as the old year ends and the new one begins. Filipinos believe that you must cast away the bad and begin with a clean slate each year, that’s why New Year’s resolutions are very common, too common that at times these are taken for granted.

Many a home will have been cleaned spotless and polished to welcome the New Year. I remember in our family, all dirty clothes must be washed and pressed otherwise; your entire year will be soiled and crumpled like your soiled and crumpled clothing. As the home is cleaned, so should be the body. My grandmother used to bathe us with lukewarm water and scrub us not with the soft washcloth but the hard (ok smooth but still hard!) stone. Every bodily nook and cranny is reached, cleaned and rinsed in grim businesslike manner. This is the best time to get a haircut, as well as sport on new clothes. One must wear polka dotted clothing or stripes as these represent money. Many would wear red for prosperity.

Then there is the mad dash at the green grocer’s to complete a basket of 13 different rounded fruits. No pineapples as the spikes represent hardships, none of the sour ones as they represent bad luck for the entire year. So ripe atis (custard apple), though sweet is not acceptable because its surface is not smooth. Bananas, though they are sweet and smooth are not round! Therein lays the dilemma. In a country where local fruits are but few in the December-January season and the only foreign alternatives are the good old apples and grapes, how can one come up with thirteen?! But yes, people do come up with the required number but have to do a bit of rationalizing. Many have added the humble coconut because it represents a “waste not, want not” attitude. Every part of a coconut is usable – drink the juice, eat the meat, use the husk for firewood or to mount your orchids in, the hard shell can be converted to bowls or spoons of if really careful, can be like a piggy bank of sorts. The entire tree is usable for wood, the leaves as roofing and the thin, long spines are bunched up together to be the ever useful ‘walis ting-ting’ (stick broom) an every home must-have – good for cleaning cobwebs, sweeping earth, and even scaring wild boar.

So joining the centerpiece of fowl, fish, and pork or beef cuisine is the ‘basket of bounty’ laden with 13 rounded fruits. It is also wise to have a dish each of fish, fowl, pork, and beef and for good measure and to represent long life, a noodle dish to ensure that the entire year would indeed be bountiful. Having had to come up with such a spread for the occasion however, is sure to deplete funds in the coffers of even the wealthiest Filipino and thus defeating the purpose of the wish to be prosperous as the New Year starts.

Yet that is the Pinoy way, begin with a bang, everything fresh and clean, no expense spared and tomorrow begins the reality that a new year has 365 days.

Well fruits are soft and easily rot. Perhaps it should be 13 nuts instead of fruits. For nuts are hardy and strong and can last much longer than ripened fruits do. Also nuts represent health and intelligence – which perhaps we need more than the hopes for prosperity. So instead of wishing to have a really prosperous year, let’s with for a year where we can be truly smart and use our thinking caps daily and be wiser so we learn from our mistakes and move on.

Wishing you all a nutty new year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The trimmings of Christmas

I find that being a parent adds a new dimension and twist into my Christmas season. When once before I had thought of good things to give my loved ones, I now have to consider the things I give my pre-schooler. Then there is the religious side of the season that I must also share if I would ever hope for her to grow up as an individual with a set of values and beliefs, and, well there is also that man on the red suit. Probably much more dominant in the mall and media scenes than the baby in the manger.

And so I began the season telling my daughter that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. This ties in very well with her birthday being also in December. She understands now that birthdays are special days and that one must go and hear mass during one's birthday. It also helped that Christmas fell on a Sunday this year.

I also told her about the story of Christmas. And boy was it difficult. How do I even begin to explain Mary and her virgin pregnancy? So I told it the normal way, that Mary and Joseph fell in love, got married and travelled to Jerusalem to visit their ancestors. Similarly, I showed that we anually go back to the Philippines to visit loved one and friends. Reaching Manila, we sometimes stay in hotels or at relatives' homes. In Joseph and Mary's case, they were just unlucky not to be able to find available space but some good person gave them the manger. At this point I was interrupted by a tiny voice, "Mom, what's a manger?"

Thus the Christmas story diverts a while to pictures and drawings of animals and the different food receptacles they have based on size, diet and food preference.

Then finally baby Jesus was born and three wise men from the East came to bring presents. The names were as challenging to teach (try letting you 3 year old pronounce Balthazar properly!) as well as the gifts they brought a challenge to explain! "Mommy, why did they not bring some toys for the baby Jesus?" my little one blurts out as she closely looks at my kindergarten-like drawings of the wise men. Why not indeed! So I fumbled a bit and came up with another mini-story of my own creation that the baby Jesus needed the gold, to make his crown when he is of age (like Simba) and frankincese and myhrr are also needed for the crowning ceremony. I can see she has not totally bought into my answer but tries to be polite.

Then the shepherds came and sang with the angels and where do I put Santa?

My husband did not grow up in a household where Santa visits at Christmas. Yet I was steeped in Santa lore. I remembered making Valentine's Day card for Santa just to remind him of the presents I wanted and that I was being such an especially good girl that year. Even when I discovered my mom and dad wrapping the red bike for my younger brother and signing it at Santa Claus, I still believed he just asked my folks to sign it on his behalf. We were after all in the Philippines, in Cebu City at that time and he had to cover the United States and the rest of the world!

So I continued my Christmas story with the angels giving gifts to all the people. (Heck if my daughter will believe in a Santa, why the hell not in angels!) And this became a tradition that passed on to every family until today. So when Jesus left the Earth (and she knows about dying having had just my dad passing on) he left other people in charge of giving gifts to the people. One person is Santa Claus. Aha, there goes the tie-in! But only good kids get presents. The naughty ones do not! And her eyes grow just a tad bigger as she affirms, "I'm a good girl, mom."

Then it makes me realise that convuluted and complicated our made-up stories can be to entertain and partly educate our kids, it still comes down to the basic tenet of, "being a god person is important and will reap rewards." And as we open these "rewards" on Christmas day, another truism comes forth - these may not be the 'rewards' we want to deserve but these are what we received and for that, we should all be thankful.

May the spirit of giving and forgiving continue to reign among us, even and moreso after Christmas.