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Once upon a Christmas

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IN THIS DAY and age when all it takes is a single click on your mobile phone to place online orders for any item you need for the noche buena table, I couldn’t help but recall those days when every member of the family took turns in preparing the staple food items in the noche buena feast. 

In the morning of December 23 after attending the 4:00 AM misa de gallo, my brother and I would hurriedly take our breakfast and then start peeling the kilos and kilos of purple yam, boiled to perfection in those large iron pots that were previously used during our town fiesta celebration. This was some sort of a rite of passage for me and my brother because several years back, it was my two older brothers who were assigned with this particular task. Depending on our mood swings, my brother and I would sometimes argue over the minutest of details; but most of the times we were in high spirits, laughed over countless stories, worked in perfect synch and finished the work early, much to the delight of our Imang Onyang.  

Ali yu panyamalan ing obra, gadgaran yu lang mapino reng ubi,” our mother would remind us endlessly as if telling us that our kalame ubi for Christmas depended highly on our simple efforts. This was probably the reason why my brother and I didn’t mind having purple-colored fingers and nails the rest of the day. Located in our backyard is the makeshift lutuan featuring a large kawa with fire wood underneath, and waiting in one corner is the heirloom wooden syansi that was big enough you could use it to row a boat. Assisted by my sister, my mother would mix the ingredients and then supervised my two older brothers as they took turns in cooking the kalame ubi, or to put it more correctly “keng pamangogo kalame.”

My mother was just as strict with my two older brothers. “Pante at pane ing gogo, ali ye papaburen madudulok,” she would continuously remind the two. Whenever she saw a burnt portion, she would be quick to pour a few drops of larung latik. My brother and I would wait patiently for hours until it was time to scoop the burnt kalame using a spoon and have a first-hand taste of our kalame ubi.  After hours of pamangogo, my mother would then direct our sister in putting the finished product into the llaneras, making sure that each pan is dabbed with the larung latik using banana leaves. On top would be a sprinkle of just the right amount of latik prepared the previous day. Finally, our kalame ubi is ready for both the noche buena and for distribution to our neighbors. 

In the morning of December 24, my mother would then be busy preparing for our ligang Pasku. Days before that, she had already placed her order of the choice cuts of pork and beef from her suki in the local market, along with the “manuk a native” sourced either from our own backyard coop or from one of our cousins from another barangay. 

Banayad mu ing tangab, ali me bibiglan,” my mother would then instruct my older brother as a makeshift kalan is once again used and not our gas stove. For my mother, it would never be a ligang Pasku if cooked the modern way; it always had to be cooked using firewood or charcoal. This meant hours of waiting as the big chunks of pork and beef, and the whole native chicken are placed inside the big metal pot. For one reason or another, the ligang Pasku tastes better even on the third day of reheating it or when my brother aptly describes it, “potang mangalaglag na ing laman at pati butul malambut na.”

Call it the price we have to pay for modernization and technological advancement. While we all find it practical, less time-consuming and less stressful to simply source out food from a wide range of suppliers, nothing beats the idea of an entire household getting involved in preparing the food for the noche buena. More than being sentimental and melodramatic, I think it is our longing for the genuine celebration of Christmas centered on the family and our loved ones that we find ourselves going back and longing for the days when life was a lot simpler and less complicated. It is never too late; we can still celebrate Christmas the way it is meant to be celebrated. Let us never allow the fancy trimmings and highly-commercialized celebration take away the true reason for the season.

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