Washing dirty clothes on a Christmas Eve

Five and a half hours before Christmas. This same time last year, we were together as one family in South Cotabato in the Philippines: my parents and my five other siblings, two are already working (my sister and I), my two brothers who were still studying in college, and my two sisters (one in high school and our youngest in her second grade in primary school).

This Christmas, however, is different. I’m here in Vietnam studying. My sister and my younger brother in Pampanga are now working for a BPO company, my two other siblings who are in Iloilo decided not to go home, and our parent in Mindanao with our youngest sister.

I called my eldest sister this afternoon when I came back from school after she sent me an sms that she missed me. She is the most emotional in the family, the one who easily cried when teased, the one who had to go back home several times when she left for college because she couldn’t bear to be alone, the one I am closest with. She told me that our younger brother has to work from seven this evening until tomorrow morning, therefore celebrating his Christmas while taking calls.

I’ll call my mother later for I know that by this time all the lines are busy.

As for me, I’ll just let this pass, probably sleep a little later tonight and send emails to friends I’ve met and temporarily forgotten. I have piles of dirty clothes filling up two laundry baskets. I’ll wash them after I am finished writing this post.

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Christmas is a communal concept. If all of a sudden everyone decides to stop celebrating Christmas then it’ll stop to exist. Like all other things we choose to forget, it will silently just die a natural death.

All the happy memories I have of my childhood were during Christmas eves. They are the most colorful, the most difficult to forget, the most important. However, tonight, a Christmas eve spent washing dirty clothes, is not very bad. This Christmas eve will add to my memories of past Christmas eves when I was with my family eating during the Noche Buena, or trying to avoid sleep because I didn’t want to think about being away from them on that special night. And now soaking my clothes, adding detergent, and hanging them later after finishing a cycle just in time before the clock strikes midnight.

Probably next Christmas eve will be different. Probably I’ll spend it with my family in Mindanao. Probably I’ll do something less tiring than washing two baskets of soiled clothes.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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Beginning of sad Christmases

The Christmas songs being played by the neighbor are surreal at best and bordering to a cacophony of annoying noise at worst. However, in spite of this, like all other symbols associated with Christmas, they never fail to make me feel nostalgic about the season. This is my first Christmas outside the country, something that more than ten per cent of the Filipino population accept as an ordinary part of their lives as foreign workers, professionals, ex-pats, or in my case and some others, as students.

Just fifteen days to go before that day, shops in Hanoi are already displaying plastic Christmas trees complete with all the trimming, glittering balls, and fake snow. The cool breeze outside adds to the festive atmosphere except that Christmas here is celebrated as a matter of compulsion. Anything western is marketable, Christmas being one of them, causing the local stores to take advantage of the opportunity. I am yet to see a nativity scene, but understanding that most Vietnamese are Buddhist or practice ancestor worship, the Christian origin of Christmas is already lost in translation here.

I intended to attend a mass for the Day of the Ascension yesterday at the Parish of Saint Joseph in Hoan Kiem District, but my friend’s mother warned me that the policemen were deployed to secure the area since there has been animosity between the city government and the Catholic Church here because of a land dispute that originated when the French left Vietnam during the 50s. So I ended up doing something else. Religion, as how people in the west see it, does not exist in Vietnam, or if it does it is practiced by a minority, most people are either atheists of worship their dead ancestors. So saying that Vietnamese do not practice religion is false, and the presence of twinkling lights, mistletoes, and Santa Clauses does not mean they’re believers of Christianity either.

Christmas here, is not the Christmas in the Philippines as much as the Filipino way of celebrating the birth of the Savior differs from that in Europe. Sometimes I ask how the eight million Filipinos spread all over the world managed to think of the 25th of December as an ordinary day or celebrating Christmas detached from it religious origin or in a non-traditional way.

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During my first day studying the Vietnamese language, the first thing I noticed in the department head’s office is a paper replica of a Christmas tree pasted on the wall, it was in May. That thing stays there until this time. I wonder when the janitor will decide to remove it. Probably when it’s too shabby as to be devoid of any semblance with a tree.

For now, I’m bracing my self for my saddest Christmas to date and embracing the fact that I’ll have Christmases similar to this one in the future.