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Keeping the Christmas magic

(Editor’s Note: Best essays on “Christmas in My Memory”. Inquirer Lifestyle has chosen the following as the best among the essays submitted by readers. The theme is Christmas in My Memory. First: “Keeping the Christmas magic” by Lollétte Oliva-Alipe; second: “A real Santa Claus” by Sylvia Europa-Pinca; third: “Warm in winter” by Ma. Pia F. Luque. Also chosen were: “Of apple pies and fruitcakes: Christmas memories with Mama” by Maria Angela B. Brazan; “The twelfth month” by Alex R. Castro. We will e-mail them for details about their tokens of recognition.)

Christmas tree made from parol by the UP College of Law. Photo by Kristine Angeli Sabillo/INQUIRER.net

Christmas tree made from parol by the UP College of Law. Photo by Kristine Angeli Sabillo/INQUIRER.net

It was Christmas of 1964. As an eight-year-old, I thought it was a most magical time.

There was the usual flurry of activities in the days before Christmas. The house was fully decorated. The kitchen was running on high gear with all the baking and cooking. Shopping trips meant a carload of gifts that needed to be wrapped. There were parties to attend and guests to entertain.

I remember that nuns and teachers from Maryknoll College came and filled our home with carols.

And making sure that Christmas was going to be just wonderful for the family was my mother.

But in the morning of Dec. 17, I awoke to the sounds of loud voices and people hurrying. Stepping out of my room, I saw my father helping my mother as she slowly walked down the corridor. She was obviously in a lot of pain, and my father was bringing her to the hospital.

I was very young, my first impulsive cry was, “but we’re supposed to buy my Christmas dress today, Mommy!”

She gently answered me, “We’ll buy it, hija, when I get back.”

But she never did.

She lapsed into a coma the next day, and on Dec. 19, just six days before Christmas, she passed away at the age of 42.

I have vague memories of my father coming home late that night and crying while hugging me. My three older sisters and brother crying and us siblings hugging each other. All of us wearing somber black in a room full of people we didn’t know, and withering flowers giving off a pervasive smell of uncertainty. Seeing my mother for the last time at the funeral. And finally, coming home to a huge house full of people, yet empty.

What about Christmas?

My mother gleefully played Santa to us. She took delight in hiding the presents and then, on Christmas Eve as we lay asleep, she would put them carefully at the foot of our beds.

Upon waking, I would move my foot tentatively until I felt the much-awaited object, then excitedly I would unwrap my gift. Imagine that? Santa actually tiptoed into the room? Magic!

That Christmas I found out that there was no Santa Claus. But our papa did something that restored some of the magic. Right after the funeral, he brought us to Arcega’s Department Store in Cubao and told us to pick any toy we wanted. I immediately chose a doctor’s kit.

Years later, my eldest sister, Monina, told me that one of the last things Mommy said to her in the hospital was to make sure I got my Christmas dress.

I am now a mother and a grandmother. As my family and I gather to celebrate the joyous birth of Jesus, I am brought back to that sad Christmas 50 years ago.

Two heartwarming memories, however, embrace me and give me comfort—that one of my mother’s last thoughts was of me, and that Papa, despite his grief, made sure that the magic of Christmas for a child would not be completely lost.

The author is mother of four children—Gabby (vocalist of Urbandub), Monchi (head of the family-owned social enterprise), Josh (vocalist of Sirens) and Sarah (fifth-year architecture student). She is also foster mother to four half-Italian siblings—Maurice (chef in Dubai), Nana (online instructor), Savie (advertising student) and Luigi (solo artist/MYX VJ). She and her husband, Em, have adopted a newborn they found in a plastic bag outside their house. Faith Makana is now five years old. Lollétte is Mamita to Reka, Jolo and Kobi. She has a personal blog at momofmultitudes.blogspot.com.

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