On Wednesday, mom j. remembered – suddenly and all at once – twenty extra things to make us late. “Ah, I have to activate my credit card!” she cried. Her hand flew to her head. “My charger. Where is my charger? And lipstick!” The stairwell creaked and thundered. “Wait. Hang on, I’m making a phone call.” And then, “Did you pack me any pens?”
Eventually we were off.
After dropping dad j. off at adult day services, we pulled into my aunt’s driveway. Two suitcases were parked outside. I heaved my mom’s luggage from the trunk, left it with the rest of the unattended, and walked to the door. My uncle, in a yellow sweater, stood waiting there. Calm. Cool. Further inside, his younger sisters were hustling, bustling. My mom was hungrily digging into a plate of rice and fried fish, as if eating breakfast was the sole intent of that day. But the truth was this was the beginning of a very long day, the beginning of two very long weeks, the last anyone would see of each other before Christmas – an adventure and ordeal for everyone involved.
My grandma, my lola m., is in the ICU in the Philippines. It is difficult to know what for, exactly. Information is always delivered through three, four different people, telephone-game-style. We learned of it only a week ago, we heard of its seriousness. And what followed was all motions. Methodically the tickets were booked, bank accounts drained, responsibilities redistributed. Sadness and sighs. And yet, yesterday morning had a lightness to it. Four Santos siblings, grown, were speaking to one another as if they hadn’t come from different states, different circumstances, as if crossing an ocean together was a whimsy someone chose over meeting for coffee. My Tita Nyle gestured at her Christmas decorations. “So when is the big day?” Tito Renato interrupted, before laughing from his chest. My cousin Ryne and I loaded the car, unloaded it, loaded it, back and forth.
I missed the call today while out buying eggs. They are in Manila? Who knows. I woke up with three mouths to feed. 1.Dad j. 2.Gigi-the-shih-tzu-j. 3.Christmas Tree j.
Of course, somehow feeding a Christmas tree is more transformative than obligatory. Somehow its existence – being the one tradition my family honored this weekend, the moment the flight was booked – has provided a necessary grounding and a happy peace. My mom and I worked all night, Sunday, hanging up every ornament we’ve collected over the past 27 years.
It is a tradition to buy at least two new ornaments, each year. And each year we hang every one. Our tree sags under the weight of our crystal phase, bird phase, instrumental phase, and so on…
My favorite sensation is unwrapping the oldest, most ancient of our ornaments. This ornament, my parents’ first, has always made my heart burst:
Dangerously, Gigi-the-shih-tzu-j., who is three, has also finally realized the beauty of the Christmas tree. There is the occasional plush!
Also, it is a nice place to sit.
This is the sort of magic everyone feels, I think. Of course, this Christmas feels a little different. The weather is different. The year is different. People are different. Time is flying. Perhaps we forget why traditions exist, why we make them. We may wonder why two epic holidays like Christmas and New Years are so close together (we may wonder this grumpily). But the point of holidays and traditions is not to create and sustain identical celebrations to the years before. No. They’re an opportunity to slow down, if even for a second, to appreciate the constants in your life, regardless of altered appearances.
I’m excited and happy to blog about Christmas this month. It will be different and the same all at once, I think. Wishing you all things calm and bright, friend.