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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

entry arrow1:31 PM | Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I have no idea what to post about this week, and about Christmas, too: my lechon-laden head does not spring with writerly impulses this time of the year. It is much too busy calculating the gifts still to be bought, and what to wear for another day that's rainy one moment and sunny the next, considering a wardrobe that basically accommodates only an abundance of sun. So I'll write, stream-of-consciousness style, about the first Christmas image that pops into my head.

Fruit cake.

I don't get fruit cake at all, or why people insist on giving them out as Christmas gifts. When did this become a tradition? Naglihi ba si Maria sa fruit cake? ("Joseph," she probably said, pregnant and bored waiting for the Star of Bethlehem to shine on her stable, "Joseph, be a dear and take the donkey. I want some ... fruit cake.") Often they come in the most dazzling of wrappers, and one year I received one enclosed in the cutest little wooden box tied up with red, green, and gold ribbons. I kept the box and threw away the cake, but not before I told the giver, "Oh, how so Christmassy! Thank you ever so much!" and did the beso-beso tango. But really now, can't anyone just be the normal unimaginative gift-giver and give out handkerchiefs or wallets or ties instead? Or books. Any book would do just fine.

Fruit cake. Sliced, their brown crumbly presence betrays tidbits of unrecalled fruit-meat, and all I can really think of in comparison is bad meatloaf, just add the tangy flavor and the smell and taste of liquor. Fruit cake is the Filipino eggnog.

Christmas for me, I think, begun with fruit cake this year -- my mother calling me up one silent, holy night, and saying she was sending over some batches she got from her sister in Canada. "Please, don't," I frantically said, "I don't have a refrigerator in my pad, and the ants are quite ferocious here."

"So eat them as soon as you receive them," she said.

"Ma, I'm on a diet."

"Nobody in their right mind diets on the holidays. It's stupid. Anyway, I'm sending you some." Nobody argues with fruitcake-giving mothers on Christmas.

I ate one or two slices, each piece sliding into my throat like lead. Later, I gave one batch to a friend. "Oh, how so Christmassy! Thank you ever so much!" she said, squealing just too nicely, then gave me the beso-beso tango.

Fruit cakes.

But when did Christmas really begin for me this year? That is a little hard to answer, since I am the type of guy who insists on playing Christmas songs in July, just because I can. My CD players blares out Amy Grant singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" much too-early in the year. And when I do feel a bit depressed, there's always her cover version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," which is probably the saddest, sweetest Christmas song there is. I listen to the lyrics and cry like a nut. In July.

Or perhaps Christmas began when I first heard a Dumaguete store play Nat King Cole sing "The Christmas Song" (or Carol Burnett, or Ray Conniff, or Andy Williams, or Mahalia Jackson...) at the start of the Ber months? Or when I first spied a Christmas window display? Or when the first public decorations came creeping into our consciousness?

Or when I went to Dr. Rico Absin's annual Christmas dinner last Wednesday to ogle at the lights, eat the "best of Negros cuisine," and listen to Luis Alandy warble a version of "Pasko Na Sinta Ko"? Thank God, it didn't rain that night. I was talking to Patrick Chua, my dentist friend, who was sitting beside Moe Atega as some feeling-diva of a fat guy (three costume changes in all!) hostaged us all with a spattering of new age tenor-rific songs and uncalled for Broadway melodies. Otherwise, it was a beautiful evening.

"This is overkill," says Dr. M.

"I tell you, this is death not by boredom but by Josh Groban."

"You know, if a terrorist drops a bomb right here and now, there would be no doctors left in the city."

"Or most professionals," P. said. "Or most Katsila."

"Jesus, I didn't know Dumaguete can be social pala."

"Are we having a good time ba?"

"I think so. Are we?"

"Maybe we can go to the kitchen to see if there's wine."

"I don't want to go. There's a dancing Santa in the living room. He scares me."

"Oh, look, the diva's finished singing."


It is a cold December, a freak of recent memory.

Outside, the cold batters the asphalt roads and the skies are in turns slate-gray and blue, subverting what we would otherwise have called the holiday "festivities." Sometimes it takes a little convincing of ourselves to believe in that last word -- "festivities" -- when all we really want to do is sleep and surrender to the chill.

True, we still breathe and move, and our Christmas trees are already out and overburdened with tinsels. Our Christmas lights are in place in their niches all over our house-beams and walls, or perhaps all over our lawn trees. Our mothers or wives, too, have finished their plans for noche buena -- and have detailed the battle sketches to combat the mob in the supermarket.

The ingredients for the holidays are in place, indeed -- but festive?

No, sleepy.

We do not seek to venture out as much, except perhaps to buy those darn "exchange gifts" for some generic Christmas parties. And so we trudge through the puddles and the mud to jostle our way inside Lee Super Plaza or Cang's, and spend some holiday cheer waiting in line -- forever -- for the simplest purchases, or for gift-wrapping services. Our patience runs thin as Bing Crosby sings "I Am Dreaming of a White Christmas" in the store's PA system.

In parties, too, we ban our diets and gym priorities, and take in the ultimate truth: 4,000 calories on the average for the entire Christmas season, not counting the 3,000 for New Year. Our girths are happy.

Or perhaps all these just might as well: the cold has certainly banished those annual Christmas beggars from pounding our doors searching for answers to their calls of "Mamasko mi," as if holiday generosity is easy to dispense. (It's not.) The other year, my mother insisted on giving out used clothes to The Knockers (how we called these people), instead of money. Later in the day, she found her bag of rummage all over the garbage can down the road. Also, I had my last out-of-tune child carolers from three days ago (when the sun broke through for a while), and they had given me, ambush-style (and just as I was preparing to go out and buy another blueberry cheesecake for another Christmas party), that now-traditional rendition of "Jingle Bells," the lyrics murdered, and with tansan percussion in place of musical accompaniment. Oh lordy, lordy.

There is no escape save for the cold. Cold is salvation, no matter the lethargy it brings. The bed has now become my faithful companion, and to snuggle under our heavy blankets has become the mission for the day. Everyday. It's really cold. And yet somehow it is also a cause for rejoicing.

It has been such a long time since I've felt a chill for the Christmas season. In recent years, what we've had was summer carried over to the last month of the year. Last year, I wrote in this space that "we wake up to these December days, and still feel April or May: the sun's still too hot -- where is winter solstice when you need it most? -- and no amount of Christmas songs from the CD player can create the kind of cool Christmas of nostalgia. I remember thicker clothes and sweaters and the welcome chill of December nights. These days I still parade publicly in my shorts. My dream Santa now wears a red Hawaiian shirt and puruntong. It doesn't look good."

This time, Santa's back in his red, fur-trimmed suit. And I now get to wear my cold weather wardrobe -- something I haven't done for a very long time. Rainy season weather is quite fashionable. You wear your best boots and your best long-sleeved shirts and your best jackets, with your best black umbrella. So Giorgio Armani, tropics-style.

It's Christmas. Might as well dress to the nines. Did I begin with fruit cake?

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich