They're All We Shall Ever Want for Christmas

Diego and Leonora, newly wed in 1945

Diego and Leonora, newly wed in 1945

Sometime in August, 1949, our parents left the barrio of Cupang in Bauan, Batangas with a three year-old toddler, a six month-old baby and their sundry belongings, and traveled northwards to Baguio, a city slowly recovering from the ravages of the war. There were many other families from the same barrio who, at various times in the late 40s and early 50s, took the same journey in search of a livelihood, leaving behind their thatched huts to be looked after by elderly relatives, laying down their ancient farming tools.

These migrant families were among those given stalls in what would become Baguio City's public market where dry goods and other commodities were sold. For the first three years, the young couple Diego and Leonora, now with two children, lived in a small space which served as their shop and living quarters. Frugal and industrious, they saved enough to move their family to a one-room apartment near the market. Ten years after settling down in Baguio, they bought a small two-bedroom cottage, and later acquired a bigger house. They would have a total of eight children, seventeen grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, who all came back to the family home at Christmas time, save for those who were living abroad.

Come December, Itay splurged not only on food for the family, but also on fireworks for New Year’s Eve, until advancing age and a stroke rendered him too weak to rouse the neighborhood with thousands of pesos worth of skyrockets and assorted earthshaking explosives.

Diego passed away on November 30, 2010, at the age of 92. On November 5 this year, twenty-six days short of her 90th birthday, Leonora suffered a cardiac arrest and died in the arms of one of her daughters. Our parents—Itay and Inay—had struggled and scrimped throughout those early years in Baguio, despite adversity and reversals of fortune (the public market was razed by fire twice). Now all we have are memories of how devoted they were as parents, and how they made the Christmas season up to New Year's Eve the happiest days of our lives. This will be the first Christmas that both Itay and Inay will not be with us. My sister Luchie remembers what our parents always dearly wished for this time of year:

“They wanted nothing more than the company of their children and grandchildren, hoping that those abroad could come home even for a few days. It must have been heartbreaking for them to accept that some of their children had lives to live abroad and were unable to come home to spend Christmas the way the family used to celebrate it. The traditional leg of ham that Itay bought in Echague in Manila, and the imported chocolates that Inay kept hidden to be distributed on Christmas eve, were among the highlights of our noche buena. Keenly awaited was the distribution of envelopes containing cash dividends—hard-won fruits of the family business—among their children and grandchildren. We were always admonished to be mindful that there were many others in the world who were are not as fortunate. Come December, Itay splurged not only on food for the family, but also on fireworks for New Year's Eve, until advancing age and a stroke rendered him too weak to rouse the neighborhood with thousands of pesos worth of skyrockets and assorted earthshaking explosives.”

My sister Racquel who lives in Los Angeles came home with her family for our mother's funeral. She recalls how we celebrated Christmas in our first cottage:

“Early in December, Itay would bring home a real pine tree that we would decorate with make-believe snow made of cotton tufts or congealed soap foam, multicolored blinking lights, ribbons and glitter balls. Itay and Inay would buy chocolates (all-time favorites were Nestle's Crispy Chocolate Crunch, Butterfinger, Milky Way and Kisses) and red apples, which made for a more delightful sight. Inay always had a manger underneath or beside the Christmas tree and a parol hanging at the entrance of the house. One particular lantern I recall was cream-colored, cylindrical in shape, with cut-out figures that made for lovely moving silhouettes that cast shadows as the lantern turned. She lined the walkway to the house with bright red poinsettias. During those coldest of Baguio nights, she took out the green and red knitted sweaters and mittens from storage to keep us warm."

“I remember attending early morning masses at the Baguio Cathedral. Itay woke us up very early, and it always took a lot of will power to get up at 3 a.m. It was quite a challenge to brave the biting cold. We followed Itay's pace, briskly walking to church. To drive away the chill and warm ourselves, we even jogged part of the way. After the misa de gallo, we walked back home, happily chatting with neighbors with whom we exchanged greetings. Inay would welcome us with a pot of stimulating salabat, steaming coffee and hot buttered pandesal. We also often had warm puto cooked with fragrant anise seeds on top, bought from an early morning vendor. At other times, biko, a brown sticky rice pudding, completed the breakfast fare."

Diego and Leonora celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in 2005

Diego and Leonora celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary in 2005

“The scents of pine needles, soap foam, chocolates and apples linger on in my mind and seem to waft again when Christmas season comes. What is most heart-warming is the memory of the smiling faces of Itay and Inay, that special sparkle in their eyes—surely a picture of happy, contented parents who had sacrificed so much to bestow on their children the priceless gift of joy and abundance."

“Those days are gone now, but my heart will always be filled with love for my parents who made Christmas very meaningful and memorable to me and my siblings.”

For us the newly orphaned, this will be the saddest Christmas of all, and for all time to come. We shall gather as before, and we shall share our memories of our best and dearest—Itay and Inay—with smiles, with laughter over the funniest, zaniest episodes in our life as a family, but mostly with tears of grief and gratitude.

 A version of this essay was published in the author’s column, “Passages” in The Philippine Star, December 21, 2015.  

Ed Maranan

Ed Maranan

Ed Maranan has won major literary awards for his poetry, fiction, essays, plays, and children's stories. He writes a column for The Philippine Star, contributes to other publications, and is a member of the Baguio Writers Group, PEN Philippines, and Umpil (Writers Union of the Philippines).