Christmas is the time of year where we all get together as a family to celebrate the birth of our Lord. At this time of the year, I'll remember my parents who get busy preparing for Christmas Eve. We will go to the traditional Misa de Gallo that will culminate in Misa de Aguinaldo. As it was terribly cold at this time of the year I'll be bundled up in knitted sweater or jacket to brave the early morning and go to the chapel at Fort Del Pilar.

The chapel will all be lighted up with a big star while Christmas carols were aired over the megaphone urging people to attend the early morning mass. We would have decorated the house with a "parol and a Christmas tree of young fresh pine with all our gifts grouped in its base. You have to count the packages to make sure you have one. As there are ten of us, the gifts should be that number or more. The number of packages increased as the family grew. So later the rule was changed since it was getting to be so impractical. There were more receivers than givers.

The gift giving rule then became children under 16 and over 60 must be given gifts. If you are not in this bracket, you have to be extra nice for you to be given a gift. Even then, one had to shop for so many gifts as everybody seems to be given one despite the rule. This was the time of year the Indian bazaars along Session Road got real busy. My mother prepares the ham for Christmas, two months earlier injecting it with pickling solution then wrapping it with cheesecloth for sun drying.

In front of the house is an electric post, which she uses to hang the ham on. She would tell me to remind her of the ham before nightfall. After this curing period, she'll smoke the ham in guava leaves and then she'll boil the ham in pineapple juice, put brown sugar and prick it with cloves and then put it in the oven to glaze. With ham, she'll also make fruitcake.

She'll bake lots of it, some to give away as gifts to friends but most to feed her hungry horde of 10. The fruitcakes will last until New Year's Day the ham will be gone in a flash. My father will make the cheese pimiento from queso de bola to go with the toast of Pan De Vienna bought from City Bakery. My sisters will prepare the salads and the pies and the bulalo. After the misa de Aguinaldo, everybody sits down for noche buena and then starts opening gifts. There will be a round of thank you. Christmas day will be a time of showing off the presents you've got.

Among friends, this season would be a time for caroling. We would gather and practice and prepare the schedule which houses we will carol in first. We will have a place to go to each night. Proceeds of the caroling will fund a bonfire where we will have lots of fun. It would also be a time for watching the cadet show. The cadet corps will have a presentation at this time of the year they call the 100th Night Show so called to mark the number of days before graduation. This is a variety show were a cadet show off his talents to a fun loving crowd.

As season after season went by, we've practically had the same Christmas activities. We've done away with the caroling since we've grown over it and the 100 Night Show we started missing when we left PMA, the food we prepared for Christmas were the traditional ham, fruitcake, cheese pimiento and bulalo. The pan de Vienna had been replaced with French bread and the ham no longer made from scratch but bought ready for glazing. But practically we followed the same pattern out of habit. So I am pretty sure this Christmas, my siblings and their families will all be gathered at the family home and will have the same traditional noche buena and the opening of Christmas gifts. How I wish I could go home and spend Christmas in Baguio.

P.Q.B. December 20, 2000

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