Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year Celebration in the Philippines, by Noemi S. Rabina

For a few days before the New Year lots of sidewalk vendors will be selling different kinds of fire crackers. There is a ban on them due to accidents that have resulted in the loss of lives, limbs, or properties; still many people delight in following the traditional way of greeting the New Year. With the introduction of aerial fireworks in modern times, it became an art form. They are displayed in places where the people can safely see and enjoy.

December 31 is usually not a public holiday but most people are given the day off so that they can prepare for the New Year's Eve celebration. It is a busy day for all families preparing the food for "media noche," the midnight dinner. People are rushing to buy firecrackers.

The children have a good time blowing their toy trumpets, called "torotot." They enjoy their "watusi," a kind of small firecracker that, when rubbed on a rough surface and released, crackles into a little spark work dance.

There are some beliefs and practices that are believed to bring good luck, fortune and prosperity in the New Year:
·         The noise of the firecrackers is said to drive away the evil spirits.
·         Putting coins and money in the pockets will make the next year prosperous.
·         In the same way, wearing polka dot shirts or dresses symbolizes money.
·         Opening windows and doors, and turning lights on will make all the graces come into the house as the New Year is welcomed.
·         Some people pay off their bills at the end of the year in the hope that they will be debt free in the coming year.
·         Most people go to church before midnight to thank the Lord for all His blessings.

At the strike of 12:00 midnight, the noise becomes very loud. Fire crackers rule the sky; church bells ring; old pots and pans are clanging in homes; radios are turned on full blast as happy people sing the "Auld Lang Syne."

Blowing of cars' horns and ambulance sirens will last for full one minute. The loud noises and sounds of merry making are supposed to drive the bad spirits away. Children have to jump 12 times so that they will get taller the next year. 

When the noise stops, the air is filled with people's voices. The family starts to eat the thanksgiving feast. It is also believed that when much food is on the table, there will be sufficient food the year round. 

Some can afford to have a whole roasted pig, called "lechon" on the table. That is one Filipino delicacy. There could also be ham and homemade native cakes.  Twelve round fruits of different kinds must be on the table to signify 12 months of prosperity.

These are traditions that the Pilipino people carry along where ever they may be as they welcome the New Year. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Traditions, by Gloria Hannigan

Christmas with my grandfather always meant the perfect Christmas tree.  He would spend hours cutting off branches, drilling holes in the tree and repositioning each branch until the tree was perfect.  My brother, sister and I would sit and watch him, yawning frequently, sometimes falling asleep, and being poked awake by each other, waiting for Grandpa to get the tree perfect so we could decorate it. 

My Mother put on the lights and her prize ornaments from Germany.  We were then allowed to add a few plastic balls and hang the icicles which had to be hung one at a time.  When I would get up during the night I would find my Mother still in the living room repositioning each icicle until the tree was a work of art.

When I had my own family the Christmas tree lost much of its perfection.  We never quite got the knack of how to choose a tree.  One year we could only get it to stand straight by tying a string around the tree and attaching it to the wall with a tack.  The tack gave way and the tree ended up on the kitchen floor.  This was the end for many of my mother’s precious ornaments that I had inherited. The rest were broken the next year when one of my sons received a clown punching bag as a gift. 

Need I say more?  I started my own tradition listening to Dean Martin’s Christmas album while trimming the tree.  This caused a lot of moans and groans when the children became teenagers.  One thing remained of my mother’s traditions, I still insisted on the icicles being hung one at a time.  I often found myself doing this alone as everybody got bored quickly and disappeared until the next meal.

When the children were grown, one of my daughters invited me to come and help trim their Christmas tree.  When she opened the door, I was delighted to hear Dean Martin singing, “I'll Be Home For Christmas”.

After the tree was trimmed I was appalled to see my two grandsons, three and four years, throwing icicles on the tree.  When my oldest grandson handed me a bunch of icicles, I looked into his shining laughing eyes, said quietly to myself, “Forgive me Mother”, and threw the icicles at the tree.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Treasures of Darkness, by Evelyn Watson

“I will give you the treasures of darkness” Isaiah 45:3
It was Christmas 1973. My parents had both died that year during the summer, in June and July. This was my first Christmas with them gone. It was planned that we would spend that year in Connecticut for the holiday. I was not looking forward to going; in fact my heart was heavy with the idea. I wanted to be close to Christian friends who had known my parents and who had been there for me during this devastating time of my life. I was going to be without my parents, and not having my friends with me for the holiday magnified my sorrow.

For days I felt the weight of sadness and as each day approached closer to our departure, my spirit kept spiraling downward. I told friends and the Lord that I felt as though I was going into darkness. I didn’t know Dwight’s relatives really well, but I knew that their belief in God was mostly a ritualistic traditional doctrine without knowing a personal relationship with Jesus.

On the morning of December 13, I was in the shower once more pouring out my heart to the Lord when He spoke, “Read ‘Streams in the Desert’.” My daily devotional had been forgotten in my despair for several days. When I read the message that day immediately my spirit was lifted. It was a direct answer to my prayer. “I will give you the treasures of darkness” I wasn’t aware of that verse. The message was a beautiful story of what God does with us in those days when it is so dark. The last sentence read, “God is watching, and He will bring good and beauty out of all your pain and tears.”

As our plane rolled down the runway for takeoff, I thought of the song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. Yes, I still felt like I was leaving my heart behind, but I was no longer weighed down by it and was able to go through the holiday knowing God had heard me and was with me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Memorial Christmas Trees for Mom and Dad, by Charlene Farnsworth

My best friend, my dear mother, passed away in November 1998 at the age of 85.  This was a particularly difficult time as it was the week of Thanksgiving. 

With my significant loss, particularly at the holidays, I needed an extra push to accomplish the usual “much-to-do.”  To ease my loss and better my motivation, I decided to decorate a Christmas tree that would be a dedicated memorial to Mom.

I felt the most appropriate decorations for Mom’s tree would be hearts.  In my craft supply, I already had a variety of dainty doily hearts in red, white and gold.  There were many family members and friends who had comforted my Dad, brother Jim and me in our loss through beautiful flowers and plants and lovely cards and notes of sympathy. 

How could I use the doily hearts to acknowledge the thoughtfulness of so many?  With my own heart filled with love, it was easy to answer that question.  I went about decorating the hearts with various Christmas seals - candy canes, wreaths, snowflakes, etc. 

Added to each heart, in script, was the name of a person, family or couple who had lovingly remembered Mom and acknowledged our loss.  Fortunately, I took a picture of Mom’s unique Christmas tree to capture forever her special remembrance.

Two years later, in October 2000, our Dad passed away at the age of 88.  Again, Jim and I received a significant outpouring of kindness and sympathy from other family members and friends. 

Dad, of course, must have his own memorial Christmas tree in his honor.  Mom and I had learned how to make envelopes of various sizes when we were struggling with the art of origami.  That was the inspiration for Dad’s tree. 

I made colorful miniature envelopes of like size with a facsimile thank-you note peeking out from the top of each envelope.  These brief notes were typed in script and acknowledged each family member or friend’s personal contribution in offering comfort.  I had the good fortune to also photograph Dad’s memorial Christmas tree to reflect upon for years to come.

Although few of the people who were identified on the hearts and envelopes that decorated Mom’s and Dad’s memorial trees were present during the Christmas holidays, those who were present enjoyed the enchanting effects.  Personally, it was an immense comfort to honor and pay tribute to our parents who were no longer with us during the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christmas Treasure, by Annette Skarin

I stood in the middle of the second floor of the mall known as the Galleria. I was overflowing with joy as I clutched my purse with the sixty dollar Christmas bonus we had quite unexpectedly been blessed with that year. I was a single mother once again, but this time with three children instead of one.

The shoppers swarmed around me – many of them with lemony looks on their faces and empty glazed eyes. Occasionally someone would smile and say “Merry Christmas”, which would brighten my spirit and charge me with the energy of the season as I cheerily returned the greeting. Christmas tunes were dancing in the air and all the shop windows were dressed up and alluring.

I had been so poor in the previous years that I hadn’t been able to afford presents for Christmas. I already knew in my heart the special gift I wanted to purchase each one of my children. A special VHS tape (remember those) that had just been released showing shots of whales and dolphins underwater for my son. A pair of pretty earrings with turquoise stones for my oldest daughter. And last, but not least, a photo album for my youngest daughter.

I was pleased with my selection and had a little money left over, so I stopped at the candy store to get a few of my favorite jelly-belly jelly beans (my favorite was popcorn). I set my purchases down next to me and weighed out and purchased my treats and then quickly left the crowded store.
It only took a few minutes before I realized my bags were no longer with me. I hurried back to the candy store and saw the now empty spot glaring at me. I asked the person behind the counter if they had seen a bag or if anyone had turned one in. She said, “No, I’m sorry.”

I left the store in a panic and backtracked to every store I had been to. Every answer was, “No, I’m sorry” until someone suggested I report it to mall security. Numbly I found my way to the security booth; by then tears were beginning to form. I told my story between sobs and garbled speech. They tried to keep me calm while they called security personnel on their walkie-talkies but they all came back with the same answer. Sorry!

My heart sank and I wanted to scream out, why? I finally went home and lay there bawling uncontrollably. Our Christmas was ruined.

My children had been at school but when they arrived home they asked me, “What’s wrong Mom?” I told them what had happened and all of them said almost in chorus, “It doesn’t matter Mom, as long as we have each other.”

I have never forgotten that lesson. I am blessed to have such loving children.

* * * * * 
For more stories from Annette, please check her blog:  Annette's Blog

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Story, by Gloria Hannigan

T’was the week before Christmas

and all through Memoir class,

Not a person was missing, nary a lass.

The seniors were nestled snug in their seat

Waiting for the teacher, Bonnie, to greet.

When all through the classroom murmurs did sound,

Through the open doorway Bonnie did bound.

She opened her briefcase with a practiced ease,

Turned to us all and said,” Quiet, please.”

We went right to work our stories to read;

We laughed and we cried whatever the need.

Then promptly at the hour of three

A festive Christmas feast we did see.

We arose from our chairs to eat our fill,

Secretly hoarding that antacid pill.

On Mina, On Judy, Randy, Kasey and all

Come Evelyn, Margaret, Dora don’t stall

It’s time for this tale to come to a close

So from her chair, Bonnie arose.

We heard her exclaim as she drove out of sight

“Merry Christmas to all, and remember to write.”

For more of Gloria's fun, please visit:  Gloria's Blog:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

For Display Only, By Yolanda Adele

I was five years old the Christmas that my mother promised to take me to see Santa at the big store downtown. She said that all I had to do was to be patient while we first stopped at the appliance department.

As soon as we got off the streetcar I could feel and smell the fresh mist in the air, mingled with the scent of cinnamon churros, my favorite fried sweet bread sticks, coming from the vender’s cart. I didn’t dare ask Mama to buy one for me because today I was going to try to be on my very best behavior.

The multi- colored Christmas lights from the decorated street lamps reflected in small puddles of rain water. It looked magical to me.

As the sales person talked, talked, and talked some more, I could hear the sounds of laughter and Jingle-Bells coming from the main lobby where I was sure that Santa was sitting, waiting for me!

I quickly grew impatient. I made many trips to the drinking fountain. Mom was so enveloped by the prospect of owning a new wringer washing machine that she turned a deaf ear to my pleas and demands. I had to go "potty!" I was afraid if I had an "accident" Mama would have to take me home WITHOUT seeing Santa.

Minutes later an irate salesman approached my mother and asked in a loud voice, "Is that your child on the floor model commode?" He didn’t give Mama a chance to answer. “If so, remove her at once, and explain to her that that latrine is for display, ONLY! We have sanitation laws you know!" With that he handed my red-face mother a box of tissues.

That day I learned: what “displays only” are not for. I finally got to see Santa in person -- on my sixth Christmas.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Country Road, by Noemi S. Rabina

I am a country road stretching from town to a remote village. I am being traveled by all people from all walks of life. Employees from town will walk in groups to the end of the road where they work in a Power Plant. People from the village will also walk to town for different purposes; like selling their goods, or buying commodities they need at home.

Being in a rural place, I am not as attractive as those in the metropolitan areas. I look rugged especially where I have lots of turns. Wild trees have grown on both sides, their leaves as big as elephant ears.  As the wind blows, it gives a whispering sound. Who would dare walk alone on this lonely road?

However, I always look forward on Sunday mornings when five sisters will come out and joyfully walk together on my humble path. It is a joy for me to listen to their laughter, their songs of hymns, and their words of inspiration. I bet they are going to church, rain or shine. They will take off their shoes and walk bare foot to feel the cool earth on my side and the running stream of rain water. 

One will describe the beauty of the wild flowers unnoticed by other passersby, the dancing leaves of the wild trees, and the song of birds, big and small. Showers come and they were drawn closely together under a big black umbrella. Three heads drawn sided by side; one small head in front and another small head at the back. They move slowly as one, to my delight, as they scream with laughter that echo all the way.

Before sunset, they are on their way back home to where they call their paradise hill.  They started as five going to town and returned with gentlemen escorts from their church. The air is filled with brotherly/sisterly love. I am not a lonely country road after all. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Thanksgiving Flower, by Margaret (Peggy) Knorr

Today my husband brought me in a single flower from the profusely blooming camellia bush in our garden. Let me explain why that to me was such a momentous experience.

Joe, at almost 95, is in the netherworld of dementia. He pretty much lives wrapped up in himself and his own immediate needs and affairs, most of which are off balance with what we perceive as reality. His idea of thankfulness has never been very present in his psychological makeup, and at present he seems to have little or no awareness of the extent of the loving care and attention he is receiving. He is angry in moments when he realizes his entrapment and then his moods usually turn to helpless and hopelessness, but in between times his underlying sweetness often comes into play changing his behavior for a little while into child-like living.

Today, while he was wandering around the garden, he must have been awestruck when he came upon this glorious bush, covered with brilliant pink flowers. I would have loved to have heard his inner conversation. Was he drawn to the innocence of the blossoms, something like he himself, blooming for no apparent reason, or did he just have a sudden urge to pick one and bring it in to give to me? I wonder what tickled the remnants of his mind that prompted him to break a single branch and come inside the house, saying simply "I have brought you a flower. It's for you."

This may not be so full of wonder had he ever given me flowers before! He never had! He was just not that sort of a person. This was the first flower he had ever given me in all the 64 years of our marriage! My treasured thanksgiving flower speaks testaments of love and faith and thankfulness.

I wonder if he had caught the Thanksgiving energy that is circulating in our hearts at this season. Had it automatically seeped into his psyche? It sometimes seems to me that demented minds have keener sensibilities in different dimensions than those we ordinarily have. To me, that calls for us to dwell on lofty ideals. To do that has awesome power to work for good.

A post script, added at a later date:

Since writing about this happening, which lit Joe's mind with thankfulness and lifted my spirits so much, his recall of it became engulfed into the dark caverns of his unconsciousness to become yet another forever lost memory. It is now locked inside Joe's ever diminishing capacity of remembering....a sweet thing living where all the other orphaned memories reside. They call to me fervently to recreate them once again. My answer is that thankful deeds of kindness can never be forgotten. I tell them that my pen is the sacred instrument through which they shall live again.