I was raised on tradition. My Lolo and Lola on my father’s side loved throwing these big Christmas Eve dinners where family members until the nth degree would be invited for Noche Buena which followed a Mass. My mom would gather all of us grandkids and mount a spectacular musical which served as the after-dinner entertainment. These were elaborately staged, choreographed and designed productions. I remember lipsyncing to APO Hiking Society’s “Mahirap Talagang Mag Mahal Ng Syota Ng Iba” while doing the dosido.
Every year, the family would look forward to Christmas Eve where everyone got together for an embarrassingly lush spread of home cooked food, jovial dinner conversation and the show-stopping, albeit comedic, performances of the Valdes Grandchildren. As a tradition, after the show ended, all twenty-something of us grandkids would line up in front of Lolo as he handed out 50 peso bills. Some of my fondest childhood Christmas memories were of these dinners.
For some reason, as I grew up, I lost the importance of these traditions.
Christmas had turned from something exciting, pure and joyful into something taxing, stressful and costly. The traditions became tedious and I scoffed at the necessity of it all. It wasn’t until recently, when I got engaged that I truly understood its value. My Dad, like my Lolo, would drill into our systems the importance of the physical practice of celebrating traditions. It forcibly reminded us of what was constant, important and lasting. Our moral choices are challenged daily, but the traditions and the memories of my joyful youth have become integral in my own decision making. It forced me to think about prudence, simplicity and basic right from wrong.
In a year, I’ll be a married man and maybe soon after that a father, and I would like to have traditions with my kids. If only to build foundational memories that would remind them of that which is good and true.
Last Tuesday, my fiancée and I were invited by my good friend Richie to participate in what could possibly be a new tradition — Marriott Hotel Manila’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. I had come from work, and Agee had come from a long day studying, it was good reason to destress and force us out of our routines.
We arrived at the lobby to see an elaborately decorated tree that stood around 3 stories high, a ginger bread train decorated with royal icing and sugar frosting housing a bevy of packaged sweets and a step or two away from these centrepieces was the buffet station serving wonderful hors d’oeuvres.
The highlight of the buffet was a custom-made “Smores station” which allowed the guests to roast marshmallows over makeshift “campfire” stoves and create the traditional sweet sandwich with Graham crackers and some melted chocolate.
This brought back a lot of childhood memories. Baguio in particular. Us grandkids would go up yearly to the Baguio house, which was a right mix of creepy yet, familiar.
We’d tell ghost stories, play board games, run hide-and-seek and roast marshmallows by the fireplace. We’d stick the mallows onto the end of the long brass poker and roast away. We were taught, quite religiously, to turn the mallow into a black crisp by letting it burn into a cinder, and when it was completely black, to blow until it cooled. That allowed for the mallow to have a crisp but tender crust to encase all that gooey and melted sweetness.
Agee, and I tried the other finger food, but were bent on making our Smores and had one (maybe two) handfuls of messy, sticky, mallowy goodness. It was funny to see how a lot of people didn’t know how to properly roast their marshmallows though. I was glad my cousins and Titas taught me how. I was glad I had tradition.
Before we knew it, a choir was singing carols, some celebrities were acknowledged, a little countdown ensued and the tree lit up. It was quick, simple and admittedly, rather beautiful. As much as I wanted to be a cynical adult about it, it was hard not to become a child again. Santa Clause came down from the grand staircase and the kids went wild. Richie’s daughter Rain was all over that gingerbread train and wouldn’t share her little bag of candies from Santa. I tried to win her hard but she was tough. I don’t blame her; she was possessive of her joy and her sweets. I would be too if I were 3 years old and witnessing all that brightly decorated grandeur. Rain ran through the legs of all the mingling adults, freely prancing around the way I did during our Christmas Eve dinners way back when.
I looked over to Agee and decided that I wanted to be like Rain again. I wanted Christmas to be less and less of an adult chore and more of a childhood wish. I wanted to make Smores over campfires, eat as much sweets as I wanted and sing Christmas carols around a beautiful Christmas tree.
As the guests left, we asked Rina to take our photo against the newly lit Marriott tree.
It was easily the best part of my day. And looking at the photo became the best part of every day.
This December, Agee and I would be spending our 2nd and our last Christmas as an engaged couple. This year we decided to start our own tradition, if only to remind us, as we grow old together, of that which is pure, good and true.
We wish all of you the best of the Holidays, and hopefully you make your own traditions too.