this story originally appeared in the philippie daily inquirer on December 20, 2016.
Ah, Christmas. ’Tis the season to be jolly. ’Tis the season I hate most. Wouldn’t you hate it, too, if you have to look cheerful even though you feel miserable?
Once December rolls in, there’s something you see everywhere apart from epilepsy-inducing Christmas lights and out-of-tune kids who sing one Christmas carol before demanding money. You see images of happy families.
Watch TV, and you’ll see a commercial of a happy family bonding over a soft drink. Walk along the streets, and you’ll see posters of more happy families enjoying ham, fried chicken, or cake together. They piss me off. I hope they get indigestion.
Yes, I’m a Grinch. But I wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I loved Christmas because it brought me good memories.
I remember: myself as a kid, my mother buying bibingka after midnight Mass, the two of us chatting happily as we enjoyed the sweet rice cake with salted egg for breakfast.
I remember: my father smiling at the airport. If he were home for Christmas instead of at sea, our family would go to Duty Free, and we would emerge with bags of chocolate—Cadbury for my mother, Ferrero Rocher for me—and liquor and cigarettes for my father’s friends.
I remember: myself eating noche buena with my parents. Sometimes we had ham and queso de bola, sometimes macaroni salad and black forest cake.
That was then. I have other memories now.
I was 20, and it was Dec. 24. My mother called me on the phone. She said she had somewhere else to go to that night. A business meeting. On Christmas Eve? Yes. With the man she left with a while ago. The one she was holding hands with on the MRT.
I was 24 and watching a movie on TV, an action flick where a lot of people were dying. It was Dec. 24… and then it was Dec. 25. I had bought pizza, cake and lasagna for noche buena with my father, who wasn’t there. When he did arrive, at past midnight, he said he was full and needed to sleep. He had been to the Christmas party of a friend. The female friend he embraced while taking an afternoon nap.
I was 25 and alone in an empty boarding house. Music pulsed through the walls of the room where I rented bed space. My landlady’s family was having a Christmas party in the garden outside. I closed the jalousie windows then went back to my bed, where I continued reading “Jane Eyre.”
It’s been two years since I left my parents to their own lives.
Every now and then I tell myself to stop feeling miserable. My life isn’t that bad. At least my parents stuck together until I was old enough to take care of myself. At least I have amazing friends who are always there for me. At least I can eat a whole chocolate cake on Christmas Eve because I have no one to share it with. At least…
Who am I kidding? When I see a commercial of a couple exchanging gifts, I hoot, “Her gift from the other guy is better!” When I pass a belen in front of a church, I want to go to Baby Jesus and whisper in his tiny ear, “Joseph is not your father. Your real daddy will have you crucified when you grow older.”
Hopefully, this bitterness will pass. I’m working on it. I keep in mind that Christmas is a time for family, but families are not poster-perfect because people have flaws. My parents have their flaws, and so do I. The sooner we accept that, the better.
My parents and I can no longer live together because of the decisions we’ve made. But I believe that we can still get along despite our differences and occasional urge to scream at each other. We have to learn to be forgiving.
Forgiveness is a spirit of Christmas, after all. It’s the best gift my parents and I can give to each other.