The Memije-Cruz Christmas tradition

That yearly ritual at home started when we still lived in Simoun. Parents just sleep on the night of the 24th, with Ate Anne and I trying our best to cook noche buena. We had a bigger family them — we lived together with our titos and titas (who have all left for the states, except for two!) and we were excited cooking because it meant: 1) the hard part will soon be over, 2) we’ll soon have a fantastic family meal, and 3) we can’t wait to open presents.

There are mainstays in the Cruz family noche buena: hamon and hot chocolate. We have a thermos that we use solely for Christmas hot chocolate. We’ve been using it since I was a kid. I always make sure we have hot chocolate on the table, so bring down all the fatty stuff we eat.

Hamon — almost always pear-shaped — is another staple. Cooking it is a labor of love. You have to baste it with pineapple juice every few minutes. There’s also turbo-broiled or fried chicken. Mama meanwhile always prepares fruit or potato salad, depending on her mood.

After dinner, the gift-giving starts. Giving gifts is not required, but is of course encouraged. Seeing my pamangkin’s all excited tearing through the giftwrapping and their eyes wide (sometimes nearly crying) upon seeing what they get beats all the hassle of looking, lining up to pay, wrapping and hauling them off from Manila to Bulacan. We’ve also been kids once and some of us remain so at heart, so we know the big bump in the happiness index when we get gifts and so the gift-giving tradition ensues.

More than New Year’s or even undas, we members of the Memije-Cruz are always required to be together on Christmas day. It only stopped when Daddy was  abroad for a number of years, but he would call each Christmas he missed. The phonepatch always made Mama cry. Christmas is the greatest and biggest feast for us, it is our most fun celebration of the year, and a good opportunity to tell and retell how much we love each other either through sharing noche buena, exchanging gifts and dinner talk.

One big advantage of having big families, especially one that’s packed with career professionals, is the number of presents we get on Christmas day. Mama has a good number of siblings, and we always expect them to each give us gifts. Kids that we were, we run around the Memije apartment on Simoun (or Sisa) and just can’t hide our glee.

I only have a handful of ninongs and ninangs and they sure  can beat Osama bin Laden in the fine art of hiding. My kid brother is luckier because he always gets the biggest amounts as pamasko. I think that’s a built-in advantage of the bunso in the family, and I will never ever experience it. Even now that Ryan’s a family man, I still fondly call him bunso and always try to give him stuff and special treatment that I’m sure he misses as the family’s spoiled one.

And so I look forward to going home today, to brave whatever’s left of the Christmas rush in the NLEX, to see what Patricia Evangelista calls “parental units”, sit down with my siblings Anne and Ryan, and to play with their bunch of kids.

Photo courtesy of Company’s Coming.

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