Dreaming of a Wayt Krismas
Dreaming of a Wayt Krismas
Editor’s Note: This previously unpublished article penned by Papu Leynes (RIP July 2, 2004), a co-founder of The Philippine Reporter, was found among his papers, sketches tucked away in a box. We are publishing it with permission from his widow, Tita Leynes, and to remember how Pinoys in diaspora cope with the holidays away from home country.
By Papu Leynes
It’s December 20. The days will soon wither under the weight of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year and the official start of winter. Yet there is no snow on the ground. The fluffy stuff is a full month off its schedule of late November. The atrivido El Nino and his contravida sister La Nina have been stirring up these seasonal shifts in the past few years. The days though brief are bright. It’s beginning to look a lot like a brown Christmas. Perhaps I should lay wads of cotton on the Christmas tree, just as we did back home.
I string the blinkin’ lights across the front window and around the tree, an American Dad’s perennial duty. In our Toronto community known as Agincourt – but now wittily called Asiancourt – ours seems to be one of the very few Christian households. Among our immediate neighbors only three other houses are decked for the holidays.
The window still looks bare; missing something. I should spray fake-frost paint along the edges of the panes just like the store windows along Avenida Rizal.
Here I am in America, dreaming of a Wayt Krismas, just as I did back home.
Ganyan ang indak ng
Ryan Cayabyab, on the cd tries hard to lift the spirit, only to waft it back to Christmases past.
There was a time back home when even the humblest house hung a parol. Every kid crafted one from bamboo sticks, papel de hapon and gawgaw for a school project.
Along the narrowest eskinita the glow of candlelight illuminated the way to church on the eight consecutive early morning Misa de Gallo and one culminating midnight Misa de Aguinaldo. The string of electric bulbs, originally meant to decorate the American-introduced Christmas tree, started to replace the traditional lanterns by the early fifties. It was modern and steytsayd. At the height of the fad in the 60’s, Oroquieta Street at night appeared to be drawn in perspective with Christmas colors that converged on a brilliant blaze of light at Malabon Street, where the better off residents of Santa Cruz so brightly decorated their whitewashed mansionettes.
“Minsan lang sang taon
May taglay na pagibig
Ang simoy ng hangin…”
I wait for the sign in the air, that whiff of fresh fragrance from the Agoho trees newly arrived from Baguio. Sublime smoke permeated the December air of Blumentritt as tree peddlers burned their trash of loose twigs and needles. Here in Toronto I occasionally catch the scent from some fireplace chimney, but more likely in the colder month of January than December. Not in recent past winters though.
My wife tells me that the spirit has been at shopping malls since after Halloween (October 31 which, in real time occurs simultaneously with November 1, Todos los Santos, back home). I’m not stirred by the writings at the mall. My spirit begins to rise on December 16, a rhythm programmed into my biological clock by ten seasons of hearing the Misa de Gallo through elementary and high schools. Disrupted by five years of irreverent life in the university, the rhythm was restored when I started working , reinforced by the thirteenth month Christmas bonus from work that one received on December 15. I’ve kept that rhythm to this day, despite the barrage of hype from the merchandising gurus. My Christmas starts on December 16, just as it did back home … but there is no snow.
December 23. Still no snow. Today is the last working day prior to the Yule week. People took the afternoon off to run those lasminit errands that they compel themselves to run in the last few hours before Christmas. Just as they did back home. It has become a chore.
Stuff started to accumulate in the house in the evenings as people brought home their presents from work and from the mall, more gift boxes to wrap. My wife crammed a half-frozen turkey and other holiday eatables into the fridge, then off she went to her sister’s to help prepare for Noche Buena. I have to make the Leche Flan tonight. The oven will be busy tomorrow.
I could be out with friends tonight. On the front terrace under the colored lights, sharing the spirits of San Miguel (both cerveza and ginebra), Del Monte pineapple juice and the visions of diamond studded skies made lucid by Mareng Juana. The balut vendor would be along presently to sell us our favorite pulutan. We could be exploding a few triangolos to preview New Year’s Eve, igniting the short fuses with our cigarettes. Or we could be at a beer garden guzzling the same spirits from greasy plastic pitchers while nibbling on skewers of hot barbecue and stoned by the loud Muzak, ogling the go-go dancers. I bet the guys still do back home.
December 24. I expect frenzy tonight as people finish late with their frenetic forays and rush to prepare for Noche Buena. Mountains of exchange gifts have to be sorted and stuffed into red garbage bags. Cooked food has to be carefully nestled into laundry baskets. All will be loaded and delicately distributed in car trunks – like cargo into airline bellies – and brought to my in-laws’ house.
Noche Buena is my in-laws’ big family reunion. They have a large family. Of seven siblings, four live with their families in Toronto and two in Virginia. Since there are more kin in Toronto the Virginia branch drive or fly over for Christmas. Besides household stuff and appliances that are difficult to buy in Canada, they bring with them a couple of legs of Virginia Smithfield ham. It’s the closest we could find to the thoroughly salty Chinese ham we used to have back home.
My wife’s sister’s husband Alex does business in the Philippines and comes home to Toronto for Christmas holiday. He’s been our link to my wife’s brother, Sito, my daughter Liana’s Ninong, who has remained home. Over the years I’ve christened Alex’s luggage, the Galleon de Don Alexandro as it carries in its hold treasures and contraband from Sikatuna Village. This year brother-in-law Sir Andresito sent over boxes of pastillas de leche, square cans of turrones de casuy. Choc-Nuts, White Rabbits, a large bag of castanas, queso de bola, several cd’s of Philippine music, a couple of cookbooks and cans of bagoong that somehow eluded the sniffing dogs at the airport. In the past Sito has sent – and Alex managed to sneak past the Vancouver customs – a whole leg of majestic ham and large bilaos of bibingka and other kakanin. I should send for Alhambra cigars next year, just to test those customs canines.
On its tornoviaje in January, the galleon Don Alexandro in the past has carried talking dolls for Ella, the latest Disney videos for Tiago and sci-fi books for Chico, Walkman, educational games and candy bars. On occasions there could be delicacies as balls of Dutch cheese, Belgian chocolates, pate de Foie and smoked salmon. The trade varies yearly according to wish lists that are exchanged via email in November. Likewise, manifests of goods are emailed to the recipients prior to the galleon departure to alert the recipients of possible losses to customs and baggage handlers. Sending an influential sundo at the airport is sometimes necessary.
The goods from the old country are welcome palliatives to the nostalgia of the adults but are already foreign to our young folks. I wonder what effects the goods we send in return are having on the kids there. Could they be dreaming of a Wayt Krismas too?
Christmas Day. We started celebrating last night with Noche Buena. The buffet was a tableau of corn and quail egg soup, Caesar’s salad, roast turkey and mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and caramelized camote. There was a quasi-traditional combo of Virginia ham, Dutch queso de bola and Italian dinner rolls pretender to pan de sal (puede na rin).
Somebody made balut. The incubated eggs are specially ordered from a Vietnamese duck farm north of Toronto. Another brought Laing (the gabi leaves, coconut milk and scots bonnet peppers are available at Jamaican stores) and Dinuguan (Chinese butchers sell pig’s blood). We sipped German wine, shots of Mexican tequila and for dessert had fruit salad laced with sweet macapuno and kaong and my Spanish Leche Flan.
At the stroke of midnight gifts and “Merry Christmas” were exchanged, along with hugs and glancing kisses on the cheeks. With a pile of gifts for forty people and the pa-piktyur-piktyur, the Kris Kringle has always been a merry two-hour marathon requiring a volunteer emcee (da Santa) and distributors (da Elbs).
It was nearly three when we got home this morning. I had to rub the thawed turkey with salt and pepper and olive oil and boil a stock of the innards and neck before I could turn in for a few winks.
We were up before ten and still groggy, stuck the turkey into the oven. Liana cooked more camote, the potatoes and Uncle Ben’s stuffing. The dining table in a poinsettia print cloth, filled out as we finished each dish and brought out the tableware and other borloloys. Tita, my wife, cajoled Tristan out of bed so that he could pick my mother and sister up from downtown and bring them over to our place. By noon we were running late, as usual. The turkey’s done but I still had to roux the drippings into gravy.
Besides Lelang Soledad, my sister Pilar and first grandson Roshan – the center of our year-round pan-holiday attention – we expected some friends and many of the same relations from last night to come over for lunch. It amazes me how we can fit that many people in our maliit na dampa of a townhouse but we do on Christmas, even if people have to take turns at the sofa or stand around the house all day.
The half-carved Virginia ham was transferred to our house, like a traveling icon in a block rosary. Tomorrow whatever’s left of it will be borne to my younger brother-in-law’s house next door for another party with their friends.
The ham is salty, close to but not quite the Hoc Siu ham my father used to buy from under the Quezon Bridge. We cook it the same way my Tatay did: soaking the leg overnight then boiling it in water for an hour and in pineapple juice for another. Finally we’d broil rum-soaked sugar on top of the fat until it caramelizes into a glaze. My father would have used a flat iron tool that he called plancha – similar to a fireplace poker – that he’d heat to a glow then press down on the sizzling sugar glaze.
My mom and sister arrived bearing gifts, a ball of cheese and a bowl of mixed greens. The Lagmans traditionally bring Tere’s lumpiang prito which, when dipped in suka’t bawang, always outsells the turkey and ham. This Christmas they drove to New York to see Jess’ nephew who is visiting from Manila.
It was nearly two p.m. when I decided I was ready to carve the turkey, announcing luncheon served with the standard “kain tayo”.
After dessert, people exchanged more gifts, took pictures of the food and each other and laid back to admire the blinkin’ lights on the tree and the Italian ceramic Belen. They drank beer, ice wine and coffee, listened to Filipino music, tried on nail polishes and perfumes. They went back to the table for a second, a third, a fourth helping, then gossiped about lost and absent relatives and friends. The wannabe political pundits philosophized on the Philippine predicament.
In the evening the young ones went to see a movie. The oldies reminisced about Christmases past. And wished it were Wayt Krismas just as we did back home.
I guess I’ll play my favorite Xmas cd again, once more, for the nth time:
“Ang Disyembre ko ay malungkot
Pagkat miss kita
Anumang pilit kong magsaya
Miss kita kung Krismas …”