Christmas has always been something I eagerly wait for all year round. Well, maybe not with as much anticipation as I did as a little kid, but I still get pretty excited about it. One of the main reasons for my excitement is our family traditions.
Christmas Day is THE event on my mom’s side of the family, and many of our traditions revolve around food. Surprise, surprise. Over the years, my Lola Marcing and her daughters have perfected the ultimate Christmas lunch menu, composed of dishes that we only get to eat once a year! Imagine the mayhem as soon as the prayer leader says, “Amen” after saying grace, what with the huge family we had.
She would start preparing at the crack of dawn, so my cousins and I would be dragged out of bed by our mothers and told to go across the street to Lola’s house to help.
The dish that makes lechon take a backseat is her Stuffed Chicken, served with cranberry sauce. The stuffing is so good that we usually have to have an additional large Pyrex just for extra stuffing! My mouth is watering just from thinking about it. This is a recipe that was handed down by my great-grandmother, Mercedes, who learned it from an American back in Tacloban. I guess it was originally meant for Thanksgiving turkey. It has become such a special dish to us that the recipe has generally remained a family secret.
Next is the Russian Salad, which I don’t eat, but the rest of my family is crazy about. I did enjoy helping Lola make the mayonnaise from scratch, ALWAYS prepared in her green glass bowl that is now around 70 years old. The younger cousins were usually tasked to hold the bowl in place while someone else stirred the mixture with a wooden spoon, so I was so proud when I was finally old enough to be the one stirring. It turns out, this was the same scenario when my mom and her sisters were our age! I would watch closely as she slowly added oil to the eggs, making the mixture gradually thicken and turn into this creamy consistency. For some reason, it was really satisfying to watch.
She also had the most delicious recipe for fruit cake, which took hours to make, and tasted better and better with age. Sometimes, we would keep it in the fridge for months, wrapped in wax paper and aluminum foil, before finally eating it up.
She never measured anything. Everything went by feel. A taste here, a dash of salt there. “Perrins! We need more perrins!”, I would hear her say. We always said what made her food taste so good was the love and care that she put into every dish. When we finished, and the chickens were safely baking in the ovens, we would collapse and finish sleeping in her living room. I used to rush to get to what we called “The Growing Couch”, which got its name after someone noticed that all the kids that napped there regularly grew to be taller than the others. That’s probably why I’m taller than my siblings. Lol!
My mom also added her own well-loved creations to the Christmas menu: her fantabulous apple pie, and (my personal favorite) her signature fruit salad.
I decided to help her make the pies this year, and I hope to make this an annual thing for us. We made a girls date out of it by chatting, and singing along to some of our favorite singers like Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, and Janis Joplin. Mom makes everything from scratch, including the flaky, golden crust. Because the whole process is so exhausting, she only makes them for people who are truly dear to her, which is basically family, and just a handful of friends. Her sister, Tita Meldy also makes her own version of apple pie with crumble on top, and she jokes that all the cursing and grumbling she does while rolling out the crust in our humid climate is what makes hers yummy.
As for mom’s fruit salad? How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! I am known as the Fruit Salad Monster in the family. It seems like a simple dessert to make, but mom has the process down. To. A. Science. No other fruit salad makes me giddy like hers does. No other food, for that matter. In fact, I was just finishing off the last of what my mom gave me when my husband pointed out that I didn’t even offer to share it with him or Job. Haha! It’s mine, I tell you! MINE!
After we gobble up this incredible feast, the kids start tearing into their presents, handed out by the designated Santa. The rest of the day is spent chattering away with the family. I can still hear all the boisterous laughter, shrieks, one-liners, with the occasional switch in accents.
There are fewer of us these days. Lola Marcing, Lolo Manolo, and dear Tito Noli (whose birthday falls on Christmas Day) have gone to be with the Lord, and many of our family members now celebrate Christmas in other parts of the world. The growing couch was left to their great-grandson, Paolo. Their home where we spent so many Christmases in has since been sold and torn down, replaced by a more modern house. The green bowl was handed down to my sister, Ruby. To quote my mom, “It’s an ordinary bowl. Not porcelain or Wedgewood China. But it is priceless.”
Every family has their own traditions for the holidays. These are just some of ours. But as wonderful as all our traditions are, what makes them all the more special is the people we share them with, and for whom we truly celebrate this season. Sometimes, we get carried away by all the food, parties, and gift-giving that we forget about the greatest Christmas gift any of us have ever, and will ever receive— Jesus Christ , who came into this world to save us. I hope you all had a very merry Christmas! Have a blessed New Year!