Christmas is Staying Together for the Ulep Family
By Aurelio S. Agcaoili
We call this the varieties of Christmas celebration and experience as we hear living stories after living stories about how the people descended from the Philippines go through the invocatory sounds and sights of Christmas.
It does not matter that Christmas comes on time in Hawai’i, the timing marked by the calendar that tells us exactly when the midnight Mass for the Catholic is officiated and when the hour to open the gifts by the Christmas tree comes.
Compared to the way Christmas is celebrated in the Philippines, it comes a bit late, as the start of the ‘-ber’ months augurs the coming of the chilly mornings and the much gentler breeze from the mountains verdant and lush with the canopies of trees, the fields ripe with grains, and the seas now calmer, now more peaceful after a series of ceremonies of typhoons with their nerve-wracking signals that can spell the difference between a shipload of people capsizing or the flooding of towns with mud and the torrential force of water rushing to imitate what deluge is.
Up comes the Christmas months that commence in September and ends practically in January the following year.
Some analysts of popular and folk cultures tell of the Philippines’ way of welcoming the Man-God the Messiah as one of the longest in the world, with almost half of the year reserved for thoughts and actions on the Christianity that has entered into the sinews of our body and soul.
And for families in Hawai’i that have descended from that kind of celebratory spirit and recollection, things can get nostalgic at times and we fall into something close to romanticism, recalling endlessly that back in the Philippines, Christmas was—it still is—a bit different.
Then again, this difference brings about sameness as well.
For Mrs. Nanie Guillermo Pascua Ulep, who originally came from Barangay Bacsil in Laoag City and moved to Hawai’i twenty-three years ago, it is this distinction of difference and sameness that brings about the fun that Christmas brings.
She has her two children, Nathan Allen, 7, and Athena Sofia, 1, to take care of and to whom memory of Christmas takes on a priority.
Include her concern for her husband Allen who has practically lived his life in Hawai’i and nowhere else.
Allen came to this country when he was about a year old, and not knowing anything about how Christmas is spent in the country, he longs for that memory that is not there and vows to go back to the Philippines one day, back to San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte where he was born, and spend the Christmas there with much gusto, fill his lungs with the Christmas air that comes from the hills surrounding his town, be thrilled by the sight of children singing Christmas carols from their lungs, and partake of the ‘tupig’, the Ilokano rice cake, and be enriched by that memory he will bring home. That is his plan. Nanie, his wife, says they will do it one day, perhaps soon.
“What matters over here is that we try to make it a point to stay together,” Nanie says. For her, Christmas, in whatever way we look at it, must redound to the essential fact of togetherness of the family. “It is this togetherness especially on that special day that marks our celebration.”
There is no iffs and buts here; nothing iffy on this condition of family value on the forefront of everything comes Christmas.
“We think of memories and they do make our lives rounder, fuller, richer. But we have obligations to our family,” she says. “Our obligation is to make memory with them, especially with the children.”
She thinks of Nathan Allen who goes to Holy Family Catholic Academy as a grader and now begins to ask questions about Christmas. Athena, at one, is beginning to recognize the twinkle-twinkle sights of Christmas, and the robust sounds of merry-making. Pretty soon, when she puts on more years of her life, she will see that Christmas in Hawai’i, the land of her birth, is the same Christmas everywhere for a family that stays together.
Nanie elaborates: “I make it a point to spend Christmas with our extended family, with my in-laws reserved for the traditional Christmas evening meal and the midnight Mass we go to. The gifts remain by the Christmas tree: they are to be opened only by Christmas day, on the 25th. My mother in-law would not want the idea of the Christmas tree being bare on Christmas, that time on the 24th that flows into the 25th.”
A reminiscing of Christmas—the ‘paskua’—in Bacsil comes as a respite from all these that clog her thoughts of Christmas.
She thinks of the joyful ceremonies that she had seen as a young girl in her barrio, far from the city, and shielded from the pretensions and commercialism of city life in Laoag some kilometers in the west.
She remembers the traffic of children caroling, many with their empty cans for drums, their inexpensive banduria and eager voices to add texture to their tunes. She herself, she says, had gone through the same joys of singing the Christmas carols, in Ilokano and English, and sometimes in Tagalog, their singing a child’s imitation of how the singers belted the Yuletide joys on radio and on long-playing vinyl albums or tapes in those times.
Her school would invariably have the Christmas program where each class would sing their Christmas carol and exchange gifts of inexpensive toys or hanky or face towel or soap bought from the city but wrapped with the constant colors of Christmas in crepe or Japanese papers.
Bacsil would have its share of celebration, with the gathering of all the people of the barrio for that Christmas dance that welcomes the spirit of abundance and the living hope for another one.
She remembers most the ‘tupig’ and the almost-sacred ritual that goes with how it was made before her very eyes, the hands of women making the dough from the sticky rice and then lovingly wrapping each piece with banana leaves and then placed on top of an open oven of charcoal from the stumps of trees from the hills in the eastern part of that place of song and solace, the place she knows by heart and which she continues to carry in her soul.
“It is the same Christmas everywhere,” she says. “It is being thankful and being grateful to what we have got and remembering that some things could—need—to be shared. That is what Christmas is: sharing our blessings.”