How I Spent Christmas

Christmas is my favorite season.  And yes, I mean season, because here in the Philippines, instead of four seasons, we have three: tag-araw (sunny), tag-ulan (rainy), and Pasko (Christmas).  Ours is from the start of the –ber months through January.  In Christmas, nights are longer (an excuse for skipping early morning workouts, really), the air is cooler (although I wasn’t born for cold weather, I love that I can use pretty “winter” stuff), everywhere gets brighter and more colorful, there’s a lot of food (which isn’t really completely a good thing since many animals are getting killed), and people are friendlier (who wouldn’t want a friendly boss even once a year?).  It’s just happier!

I’ve been ranting a lot about how cruel 2016 had been for me (and to the world in general).  But at least I got to end the year right.  My family spent Christmas in Mama’s hometown: the City of Naga, Cebu!

So, without further ado, I present to you the Bandola-Castillo Family Christmas 2016.

Pre-planning… or none

No.  There’s no pre-plan on our part.  It’s just me getting guilt-tripped by our eldest cousin from the mother’s side.

Kuya James said Mommylo (our grandmother) would love it we were all there.  And so without prior consultation, I booked our flight via Cebu Pacific, unleashing the not-so-hidden dragon in Mama.  Since Ate Tin is still in Jeddah and anyhoo her conversion to Islam is just around the corner, only the five of us were about to spend Christmas there.  Then, I thought of my fabulously single ninang, Auntie Mina and she said yes since she hadn’t been to Cebu before.

Our flight to Cebu was to be on December 23, at 7:30 a.m. while we were supposed to return on December 27, at 11:50 a.m.

December 22

Fortunately, eventful happened that required us to change our Christmas plans.  We’d rented a van to take us to NAIA 3 on the 23rd at 12 am.  We’d bought pasalubong.  We’d arranged for our help to spend Christmas in our house so she could take care of the dogs.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, Cebu Pacific.  At around four p.m., I received a text notifying me that our new flight schedule was 4:15 a.m.  Since Mama, Papa, and Joey still had to attend their office Christmas Party, we couldn’t just leave earlier.  Plus, do they have any idea how far Nueva Ecija is from NAIA?  I made frantic, angry phone calls to the airline’s Manila hotline.  An hour later, thanks to the patience of the call center agent named Gloria, I managed to secure an 8:35 flight for us all.  Come on, Cebu Pacific.  The 7:30 flight wasn’t cancelled so explain yourselves.

Haha.  I’m half-kidding, of course.

December 23

The rental’s driver was punctual that we were rolling by 12 a.m.  I practically slept through the whole trip, waking up once to find my brother was already with us and again at Shell of Asia at NLEX for a brief restroom stop.  By 4:15, we were fetching Auntie Mina at Sampaloc, Manila and a little before 5:00, we were at NAIA 3, looking for a place to eat.  We had breakfast at Raku Hokkaido Ramen House.  (They had ramen and arroz caldo.  The vegetarian girl scout had prepared overnight oats.)  Since we had extra one hour of waiting (thanks to the re-schedule) and Papa’s impatience looming, they slept at the lounge while I explored the stores for vegetarian stuff.  And I did found some, for future references.  There’s of course Army Navy’s vegetable burrito (sans the sour cream), vegetarian siomai from a noodle house I forgot, and Sap Juicery.

Our check-in counters opened at around 7:00.  We immediately checked-in and by 8:35, we were on board.

The trip was short – just less than one hour.  (You know, a lot shorter than the road trip and the waiting time.)  Before I even got quality shuteye, the plane was touching down to Mactan International Airport.

Cebu, here we come!

Auntie Aileen, third among the seven Bandola sisters, met us at the Airport.  She really looks like our Angel that sometimes we tease our sister she’s not our sister.  The Grandia rental arrived shortly and we fetched her husband and son, Uncle Jaime and JV from the guitar store.  JV has grown a lot since 2010!

Mama suggested we go to a place called Sutukil for lunch.  Turns out, sutukil pala is not a place but a trio of methods of cooking meat and seafood.  “Su” is for sugba (grilled), “tu” is for tuwa (tinola, or stewing in broth), and “kil” is for kilaw (raw with vinegar, close to ceviche).  The driver brought us to a sutukil hub near where Magellan was supposedly killed.  There were more stores than there were customers, actually, and my company chose a store that promised them… whatever.  I didn’t listen.  I was buying fruits for my lunch.  Fruits were expensive.

I thought they were promised a view of the sea.  Unfortunately, that view was not very pretty.

Soon, the food arrived.  Because I’m me, I had rice and soy sauce.  (If this was an indication of the challenges of being a vegetarian in Cebu, I guess I’m doomed.  But rice and soy sauce is yummy.)  But when they served seaweeds doused with vinegar and onions, I knew my trip was not completely hopeless.

After lunch, we went straight to Lapu-lapu Shrine, which as I mentioned is just a few steps away.  We took a lot of pictures.  Angel and I found this structure and kept joking about #KastilaPaRinMgaUlol, which nobody else understood.

Our next stop was the Taoist Temple.  I had to fight the urge to try ask from the Taoist gods if I’m going to get married or stay single for life.  That’s up to my God.

After an hour or so, we were on our way to Naga.  We skipped the trip to Sto. Nino de Cebu Basilica after we got a warning from Mama’s sister about the traffic in Naga.  Because of the Dagitab – their annual festival showcasing panuluyan – traffic was bad.  Fortunately, it was Christmas and we were finally in Cebu again so why complain?  We headed first to the Naga house to fetch Mommylo and Daddylo and then drove to Villa Dulce Resort, where we were to stay the night.  We had dinner there.  We were supposed to go night swimming, too, but we were exhausted we (Angel, Joey, and me) just slept.  The rest of them had a drink, I think.

December 24

Before I go on, I’d have to tell you that my name in the Bandola cousin-ship is Sleepy Chuck – because of my ptosis and because I always sleep.  Not surprisingly, I was asleep half the day (after a breakfast of rice and soy sauce).  Needless to say, nothing happened on the morning of the 24th.  I woke up just before we left for Auntie Ruth’s house where we were staying.

After settling down, Mama, Auntie Mina and I went to Metro Market, which was just a few blocks away to buy fruits and stuff for the Christmas party tomorrow.  Then, we went to Seaside for dinner but there was only one eatery open and all it had was puso (the quintessential Cebu fare of rice wrapped in woven coconut leaves) and an assortment of grilled dead animals so I just ate oranges.

Misa De Gallo

Because I’m the only active and practicing Catholic in my immediate company (Mama is still a Catholic but not active and practicing, Papa and Joey are kinda atheists, Angel is an unbaptized Protestant, Auntie Mina is like the Witch of Portobello), I was the only one who went to the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi for the Misa de Gallo.  It was just a few blocks away from Auntie Ruth’s.

After the Misa de Gallo at the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi

I haven’t been to Mass since the start of Simbang Gabi so although I was on my own and didn’t understand the readings and most of the homily, I felt really blessed and happy.  Anyway, I wasn’t alone.  I was with Jesus and His church.

(I did understand a bit of the homily, though, because the priest would translate some of the passages to English.  From what I understood, it was similar to our Fr. Richard Lagos’s talk during the Advent Recollection – about our hunger and the manger.)

Noche Buena

The Bandola-Castillo clan has never been big on noche buena as we find it hard to keep ourselves awake.  (Suggestion, all of us should be called Sleepy Chucks.)  But I had work to do (FYI, I had fun doing it) so I was awake through the fireworks.

And I’m thankful I didn’t sleep through it.  Because I had the bestest Christmas gift ever.  Me and my six-year-long ichiban (literally number one; refer to fangirling days) chatted over messenger until December 25 struck.  And he said we’d do it again on New Year so… ❤

If this is my reward for going to the misa de gallo…

December 25

How do you normally start December 25?  As for me, I washed our clothes.  (I think I’ll enjoy being a housewife.  Haha.)  Then, I had my usual breakfast of a banana and a cup of easy muesli.  (In my normal world, muesli meant whole rolled old-fashioned oats, unsweetened nut milk, dried fruits and nuts, and ground flaxseed.  In girl scout mode, muesli was instant oats, sweetened soy milk, raisins and roasted peanuts.)  By 10:30, we headed to Mommylo’s and Daddylo’s house where we had a Christmas party along with our relatives on Mommylo’s side.

My Christmas lunch. I swear Cebu’s suman (called budbud) is the best in the world.

Me facilitating Bato, Bato, Pick!

After the games, we didn’t have much to do left, so Auntie Mina, Angel, and I went to the plaza for some sight-seeing.  I have fond memories of rollerblading at the plaza as a kid and it was so sad to see that it’s not as beautiful and magical as I remember.

The aunties recommended seeing the city museum and since I’m involved in the development of our city museum, I was excited to see it.  However, it was closed since it was Sunday and Christmas.  So we just wandered and found their pretty city library.  (Picture to follow.)

Later that night, we went to our relatives on Daddylo’s side where we played Christmas riff-off and bingo.  I won P330!

It’s a very simple Christmas celebration, but I would choose this every time because I was with my family.

December 26

This was our last day with our relatives in Naga, since the plan was to spend the night at a hotel near the airport.  (We couldn’t risk being late for our flight… which wasn’t the case for the airline.)

Church-hopping

If I didn’t have family in Cebu, I guess I’d still love to go there because of its significance to the history of the Catholic Church and Christianity in the Philippines.  After all, the first Christians in [what was to become] the Philippines were from Cebu.  There are many Catholic churches and our itinerary for the day was the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist, or Simala Church, which Mama claimed to be the most beautiful Catholic shrine she’d seen so far.

This half day was especially for me.  On the way to Simala, we stopped by two churches on the way: San Isidro Labrador Church at San Fernando, and St. Catherine of Alexandria Church at Carcar.  Mama went to St. Catherine in elementary but she has not-so-fond memories.  On the way, too, Auntie Aileen shared her version of the Bandola family story.  It was really inspiring to hear how our mother and her family rose from poverty to their life today.  It makes me grateful of their hard work so the future generations will not experience the same.

When we arrived at Simala, this was what we saw.

Breathtaking view from the entrance of Simala Church

The line of pilgrims for kissing the Virgin Mary was like a kilometer long.  Since we didn’t have much time, we didn’t join the pilgrimage.  Someday, I will return and I will do it.  So, Auntie Aileen, JV, Angel, Joey, and I just went to church and then bought candles and souvenirs for friends back home.  Note: very pricey!

Then, going home, we stopped by Pitalo San Vicente Ferrer where we got miraculous water and oil.  I’ll write about the churches later.  I promise I’ll go back to Cebu and visit these churches and more again on my own.  Then it won’t be church-hopping anymore.

We returned to Naga for lunch and to get our things.  Why is it every single time I say goodbye to Mommylo, I look like I’m about to cry?  Yeah, because I was about to cry.  I’m going to miss her.  (See you again in 2018 or 2019, Mommylo!  I love you!)

Me and my Mommylo

Pasalubong and Goodbyes for Now

We stopped by the Pasalubong Center near Mactan Shrine.  I got lots of puso key chains for my office mates and shirts for my inaanak and ninang.  I also got myself this beautiful Sto. Nino.

We weren’t able to stop by Sto. Nino Church because of the restrictions of our schedule.  (I promise to go there when I come back.  I think it’s been fourteen years since I stepped inside the church.)  We then headed to SM Cebu to get more pasalubong and have last dinner with our kin.

(I’d also a write a post maybe about vegetarian pasalubong options in Cebu one day because I promise, in the capital of lechon, it’s possible.)

Then, we had dinner at Gerry’s Grill.  I had sizzling kangkong ala pobre and plain rice.  (I think I tasted butter but I pray I’m wrong.  Sucker.)

After saying our goodbyes for now, we headed to Crowne Garden Hotel in Cebu City.  I’m really looking forward to be with them again!

December 27

We left the hotel early since we thought Cebu traffic was worse than Manila.  Fortunately, not at all.  If we knew our flight will be delayed again…  Oh, well.

I don’t really remember how the domestic departure area of Mactan International Airport looked like back in 2010 but now it’s beautiful.  No wonder it’s one of the best.

Our flight had been delayed again, as I said.  Thank you, Cebu Pacific.  But I was so excited to see my Inoo again that I didn’t mind at all.  By 3, we were loading our luggage in our rental and we were driving back to Nueva Ecija.

Reflections

Christmas 2016 had been different from the previous Christmases because it was all about family this time.  We didn’t get to go around a lot, but we didn’t go there as tourists.  We went back to Cebu to be with our family.  And that, for me, makes it one of the best Christmases ever.

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