Saturday, December 10, 2016


CHRISTMAS happens every year. Its rituals, though, are far from predictable.

On a recent trip to Manila, I got caught for three hours in the pre-midnight rush hour.

So after unearthing a sugar-free wad of gum in the black hole of my tote, I settled back, attuned my ears to the barker announcing bus stops, and gazed at the Edsa billboards flashing past.

Alas, instead of gift ideas, I found guilt instead. Twenty-seven days before Christmas and I didn’t even have a matchbox to wrap.

Part of the stress brought on by the season is the competitiveness. I have friends who bought gifts for this year by raiding last year’s post-Christmas sales. Not only does this friend keep a color-coded, handwritten journal tracking past presents to avoid repeating a gift, he claims to have recycled everything he has given, past, present and future.

In the midst of these fantastic creatures, I am the perfect anomaly.

I planted pepper seeds, planning a potted gift for an uncle who loves to cook the fiery dishes of his childhood. The pods turned out sweet.

I took a short cut with potted plants sold in a bazaar. The purple chili hanging from the branches looked like miniature bells but would ripen, assured the seller, into habaneros, hottest of the hot.

I went home before the ripening. A few days before my uncle’s 75th, anticipating a harvest of pepper to break the Scoville heat index, I called and learned the habaneros gave up the ghost.

Similar trials and failures won’t change my mind that the secret of giving is in the planning. Anticipating the birth of our firstborn, I started to embroider a piece of cloth he would someday roll on and play before he learned to crawl and then toddle.

Our older son is 23 now. The three small blossoms I satin-stitched in a corner of what should have been his blankie may find more appreciation in a future granddaughter. Who said I didn’t plan?

Yet, more than the ability to see the future, giving asks that we pay attention to what’s here and now. Married friends of ours gathered this insight from online shopping.

Wife bought a pair of stonewashed denims from her favorite shopping website. She surprised her husband and to please her, he wore the pants to Misa del Gallo and then Noche Buena with their families.

When we anticipate one feast after another, we know we are better off with an old worn comfortable pair of pants—perhaps a little loose around the waist—than with a strange stiff pair, styled for someone younger and trimmer than the person we have been married to all these years.

Our “kumpare” was glad to get out of that pair before his blood circulation was cut off and the holidays turned tragic.

We think giving is easier when we know the recipient. Knowing is nothing compared to observing and verifying.

Trying to buy a belt online for the husband, I realized I didn’t know the size of his waistline anymore.

When the belt was delivered, the husband couldn’t still use it. It was too wide to go through his belt hoops.

The husband wondered if I harbored a secret passion for Elvis “The Pelvis” Presley, and I learned never to take for granted men’s fashion.

May this year’s giving make us wiser than we are.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s December 11, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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