Reading through my old blogs about Christmas, I’ve realized that I have not shared the many Christmas traditions we have in our family to the world wide web (not that it matters, but I just love to blab), and so here’s one of the many things we used to do as kids with our parents and grandparents: The Monito/Monita with a twist.
Starting from 15th December, the day before Christmas officially starts in the Philippines with the Simbang Gabi (Dawn Mass for 9 days), we create code names for ourselves – my parents, my brothers, my grandmother and any house help we had at that time – using our dilapidated but in good working condition typewriter so there is no chance one would be able to guess the real person using their handwriting.
Names would be as silly a Snoopy, Knight Rider, Superman, Barbie, etc. Based on past experiences, Barbie does not necessarily mean the real person behind the alias is a girl. It could be someone trying hard to throw you off! So on 15th December, mom or dad cuts an A4 paper in 8 equal parts and each one, in privacy with the typewriter types his or her codename/alias, rolls it and drops it on an empty fish bowl. Then, when everyone else has done it, we all take out a rolled paper off the bowl and secretly read the name on it. If one get his own name, he calls “again!” and everyone rolls their papers and drops it back in to pick a new one, until everyone has absolutely another alias not their own in their hands. The key is not to reveal who it is you got so no one know anything.
Then a huge box, covered with colourful Christmas wrappers of old is brought in and placed by the landing on the stairs next to the altar and the Christmas tree. Then a poster-sized paper is posted on the wall showing the kinds of gifts one would be giving their secret “monita or monito” (this was maybe from Spanish, monito means a small toy?) – the beneficiary of their presents. Again to keep it more fun, never reveal your real alias as well as who is it that you picked so the surprise intensifies as Christmas day approaches.
So from 16th December to 24th December you give your “beneficiary” 9 gifts depending on the theme. We usually start with “Something Red” and end up with “Something Big” for the 24th. This means that on Christmas Eve, you have 9 presents waiting for you in the big box under the tree! What could be more exciting than that? Well the revelation of who you are and who your beneficiary is, of course! By day 3 we would all be guessing who is who but no one would reveal anything. So the mystery keeps everyone excited.
One time, my secret giver was dad and he didn’t put any gift in the box until the very end. I was so worried as I checked each day for a present for me, but of course no one knew it was me, and found that all the presents there were for someone else. I didn’t know dad was trying to find out who was “Hulk Hogan”, my alias that year because he wanted to know the real gender and was figuring out who was looking sad when they looked in the box and not finding any present for themselves. But everyone got so good at secret-keeping and acting that on Christmas Eve we are usually fairly surprised about the true identities of our family members. Imagine my grandmother had been “Spiderman” and my youngest brother, who would usually go for a popular cartoon or Disney character, was “Frank Sinatra” whom we all thought was dad! One time, everyone thought I was “Charlie Brown” (being a Snoopy fan) when it was actually mom! We had fun thinking up common enough names but not too common that we would easily be identified with it. Often when we watch TV shows or movies and a cool name comes up, we’d all laugh and say that could be a good alias and usually it does get used by one of us: Homer Simpson, Alf, Michael Jackson…even Chuck Norris! These names and many more have all been used through the years.
The gifts are usually everyday practical things that a guy or girl could use. It could be anything from 20 pesos up to 50 pesos. Usually at the last, the “Something Big”, we could splurge a little to make it more special.
Some ideas for the “somethings” are:
- Something Red: anything red like a hairbrush, comb, t-shirt, face-towel…silly one would be a huge bottle of ketchup or a can of tomato or spaghetti sauce!
- Something Green: same as red but of course in green; green bath soaps or towels, stationery sets in green, etc.
- Something White: cotton buds, a huge roll of kitchen or toilet tissue, a pillow (usually can also be used for something soft)
- Something Hard: can openers, book ends, paper-weights (can also be used for something heavy)
- Something Soft: face towels, stuffed toys, socks…I once got a huge pack of marshmallows!
- Something Shiny: metallic things like key chains, stationery sets with glitters, penlights, flashlights, anything that shines really.
- Something Heavy: dumb bells, packets of pasta (from the same person who gave spaghetti sauce!), an atlas or dictionary (days before the Internet), big bottles of shampoos or baby powder (that are usually also something big)
- Something Round: soaps, balls, bath products, I got a magic-eight ball one year J
- Something Big: huge pillows, huge plush toys, bath products in big bottles or jars, once I got a huge cassette player!
Some years we’d change the game a bit and thrown in Something Long or Something Pointy or Something Sticky in the list. You've got to be creative and come up with gifts that could be used by both genders as well as meet the 'required "something"' from the list.
For me and my brothers, we have to also be creative in earning some cash for December. We usually sell ice-candies during summer or sell our old newspapers and used bottles, as well as save a percentage off our daily allowances to have enough for our Monito/Monita at home. Mom and dad would also give us a bit of extra cash to help us with our presents. But no matter what you get or what you give, it is such a joy to open your presents together being your very own Santa Claus to one another. We spend the hours just after midnight revealing who we are, opening our presents and laughing at what we got or what we gave away.
My grandmother and dad have both passed on and my mom and brothers live in different homes with their own families but the memories of those Christmases and the joy we had in giving and receiving continue to warm my Christmases up to this day.
It is not too late to start your own Christmas traditions with your family or the tribe that you live with. Why not start your own kind of traditions today. Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year to all.