Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Reading my wife's post about Christmas trees got me remembering:

I grew up as a single child in a small house filled with the love of a single mother. We weren't rich, but every Christmas, my mother made sure to stage a spectacular holiday celebration. The house would be transformed over the course of a few weeks into a wonderland of wreaths, lights, bells, angels, candles and various thematic bric-a-brac, and the centerpiece would be my mother's tree. Given the low ceiling of our house then, it was actually a small tree, but after it was trimmed - and only by my mother's hand, plus those of a few carefully selected assistants - it looked larger than life. My mother decorated the tree with a deft artistic touch, placing the different lights in such a way that they grew bright and dimmed to imaginary music, arranging the colorful ornaments to reflect the faces of the children who looked at it in awe (I realize now just how gifted my mother is - I'd have her art direct a product shoot any day).

The tree dominated the living room and anchored all the events and festivities she put together. All our guests, ranging from close family members to people she met only days before, would gather around the tree and play a dazzling series of games, competing for small prizes made exotic and mysterious by giftwrappers. She led the singing of carols as well as the prayers, and made sure that the feast prepared was nothing short of breath-taking: paellas, hams, prawns, steaks, fish, chicken, grilled pork, several types of salads plus a variety of desserts. A few of these dishes were ordered and purchased from trusted suppliers, but most of them were made from scratch, under the guidance of my aunt Juris whose passion for food knew no equal and the meticulous eye of my mother, who made sure that everything that came to the buffet tables or were warmed in chafing vessels looked beautiful. When midnight announced the arrival of Christmas Day, she'd call everyone to the tree and begin giving out presents. She made certain that every single person got a gift - from the housemaids to the guests to the guests of the guests who came in tow, unannounced.

As I grew older, the Christmas tree seemed to get smaller, and somehow, Christmas itself began to lose its special significance. We moved houses several times as our fortunes changed, ending up in a huge house in Greenhills with a cavernous living room with ceiling higher than any house I'd ever been in before. I remember the year my mother set up the tree in the new house, how it was swallowed by the vast spaces above and around it. It looked terribly sad, like a futile light against the gloom. No matter how well my mother lighted it or rearranged the ornaments, it looked pathetic.

"This will not do," she told me, and left the house.

She came back with several elongated boxes, summoned her staff of helpers (remember that our fortunes changed?) and proceeded to install not just one new Christmas tree, but another three or four. In her desire to have a tree, she created a forest whose representatives dominated not just the huge living room but also the upper sala, the family room, and the entire lanai outside. Not satisfied with her labors, she eyed the two huge real trees on our property and before long had the helpers climbing on ladders, armed with giant versions of the thematic decor as well miniture capiz lanterns that glowed from within. In the span of one long day and night, my mother conquered both the inside and the outside of the house, possessed by the spirit of Christmas and her own artistic drive, and transformed our residence and the land around it into something astonishingly magical. Gone from my mind was sense that things were growing small, replaced instead by the sense that Christmas was bigger than I had ever imagined.

The reckless expense of that year would never be repeated again, and though the following years proved powerful enough to tame my mother's decorative impulses, I will always remember the year that our trees multipled, like a Christmas miracle.


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