Every afternoon, my husband and I have been watching television. We were watching a Christmas fair in Strasbourg, France, when I noticed a large plume of smoke. “I bet those are chestnuts,” I told my husband Loy. The camera zoomed in and it said “Marrons Chaud” or “Hot Chestnuts.”
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire... That’s the Christmas song that runs through my dead brain as I write. On TV I watch little children in Italy bring panacotta to old ladies who live alone at Christmas. I wonder: Will anyone do that for me when I live alone?
The Philippines has changed so much. When I was small, my mother and I lived with my grandmother whose house was a stone’s throw away from my grandmother’s sister’s house. No one nearby was alone at Christmas. One of my fondest memories was when I delivered Christmas food to our neighbor Alfonso Calalang (Conrad’s father) and he gave me my first bottle of French perfume—Jicky by Guerlain. Jicky was invented in 1889. It has been discontinued but there are still a few bottles available now quoted at more than P17,000. No wonder I cannot forget receiving my first bottle of French perfume!
Is there any sign of Christmas in our condo? Castañas! Chestnuts! I cannot live the holidays without them.
When I was growing up, Christmas was simple. Someone would deliver a Baguio pine to our house on Dec. 15. Our housekeeper would exhume boxes of Christmas decorations—big Christmas lights in wild colors like orange, red, blue, green, and yellow—and big breakable Christmas balls in various colors. I can only remember one that had clear glass with frosted white flames on the upper half of the three-inch ball and blue-violet glaze at the bottom half. I loved that shade of blue-violet. That color is, by the way, what I use to dye my hair now almost 60 years later. That’s how strong childhood likes and dislikes last.
Mom would come home and we would fix the tree. I loved the fragrance of Baguio pine. It filled the house over Christmas, becoming stronger as the pine began to wilt. If there is anything I miss about Christmas, it is the scent of Baguio pine. It gives me beautiful memories of the Christmases of my childhood, when Christmas mattered most to me.
Later Christmases had a spirit touched with exhaustion as I got caught up on being a mother and had to work hard at the office, then at home trimming the tree, then cooking the turkey or roast chicken, wrapping the gifts, then throwing away all that wrapping paper and putting away all the Christmas things.
Today, I am a great-grandmother. To tell you the truth I have no memory of what Christmas spirit means. I bought large old rose balls hoping to make a nostalgic Christmas tree. I have not touched them. I write down all the bonuses I have to pay and I am depressed. Can I even afford to do this year after year? I wonder. I am growing old and my income isn’t getting any bigger. How long can I keep this up?
Is there any sign of Christmas in our condo? Castañas! Chestnuts! I cannot live the holidays without them. The last time I was buying them a lady my age accompanied by her granddaughter approached the stand.
“May I try one?” she asked. She was allowed to.
“I bet you are going to buy some,” the granddaughter interrupted in a tone that told me she didn’t like castañas.
“I’m only going to get half a kilo,” the lady said apologetically.
“People our age love castañas,” I told the granddaughter.
When I was around five, I brought my mother to her office on Juan Luna.
“You can pass by Kim Chong Tin (on Echague) on your way home and buy half a kilo of the castañas you love,” Mommy said. She handed me 20 pesos. Our driver drove there. I handed him the money.
“How much will I buy?” he asked.
“How much is it?” I answered.
“P1.50 a kilo,” he said.
“Will the 20 pesos be enough to buy one kilo?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Buy one kilo,” I said.
When Mommy arrived, I gave her the change. “You bought one kilo? Did I not tell you to buy half a kilo?” she asked angrily. “Why did you disobey me?!? Stand in the corner and stay there until I call you.”
I bawled as a ran to my corner near the door to my room. It was gray with my tears and punishments. I never forgot that, either. Of course, now, I am appalled that half a kilo of castañas that once cost .75 centavos is now P240. The value of our money insofar as castañas are concerned has grown by 320%.
That is totally depressing! No wonder I have lost my holiday spirit!