New Year Rituals

December 31, 2011

Today, the last day of 2011, my family- Mike, Charlie, Jack, and I- hiked in the woods and ate a late picnic lunch at a nearby children’s park.  This was how we greeted the arrival of 2011 and we thought it fitting to bid it goodbye the same way.

Actually, we did not really hike that much.  Three year old Charlie, more of an explorer than a hiker, could not go five feet without wanting to saw the bushes or pick up a stick or climb a tree like the monkey that he is.  Jack, only three and a half months old, looked at the redwoods with his meerkat gaze for a few minutes but eventually settled back into the carrier, seeking warmth from Mike’s chest.  We meandered for about half an hour before deciding to spread our Whole Foods feast on a mossy table.  After our lunch, we spent another hour at a children’s park.  We were home by 3:00.

At 5:00 we headed out to our close friend’s NYE party.  There were 4 couples and 6 toddlers.  We feasted on pre-ordered tacos and tamales.  The kids played in the living room.  The adults gathered in the kitchen and dining room, trying to have interesting adult conversations which invariably turned into discussions about raising our respective little monsters.  At 8:00 we popped open the champagne bottle and toasted the New Year.  We all wanted to leave by 8:30 in time for our kids’ holy bedtime rituals.

The rest of the night I worked on a story for submission.  Mike played an online game.  We both managed to make it to midnight.  We heard fireworks echo but didn’t bother to look out.  We went to bed soon thereafter.

When I was a kid, New Year’s Eve was all about two things:  our family’s annual reunion and fireworks.

On New Year’s Eve, my entire family on my father’s side—Lolo and Lola, Titos and Titas and Ates and Kuyas too many to name—would gather at one of the Tito’s houses.  Lolo would close his store, the Masagana store, something he was not keen on doing any other time of the year.  He would always have his servant boys dig up a roasting pit and round up two of his fattest pigs for lechon.  Everyone would attend because we all lived so close there really was no good excuse to miss the reunion.  Besides, why would anyone miss the chance to score some left over lechon to bring home to make into lechon kawali and pinaksiw?

At the reunion, the women would huddle and talk about their latest business ventures— my mom grew nata de coco in big plastic barrels to sell at the public market; Tita A raised ducks in her backyard; Tita B sold Tupperware, baby clothes, dinner ware, Japanese dolls, and whatever happened to be smuggled inside those big crates dumped in the sea a few kilometers away from the boating dock; Tita C made and sold pork sausages; Tita D microlent at a 5/6 rate.  Meanwhile, the men would sit around a table, glug Red Horse beer like water, and crunch lechon skin dipped in white vinegar spiced with crushed small red peppers.  My cousins and I, maybe 15 of us ranging from 2 to 13 year olds, would run around, in and out of the house, still singing Christmas songs, shaking our homemade tambourines made from flattened soft drink bottle caps.  Later in the night, our parents would then harangue all of us kids to show off our talents- sing a song, recite a poem, dance the latest move, whatever.  At least one kid must represent each family.  After the talent show, we would take family portraits next to the Christmas tree laced with fake snow made of frothed Perla soap.

And then it would be time for the fireworks.  At around midnight, everywhere in the town people would light up their own fireworks like we would:  kids like me would light up and hold the sparklers; older boys like my brothers would light up kwitis in the middle of the street and watch them launch towards the sky where they would explode;  adult men like most of my titos would light up triangles as they were the ones who could run away the fastest, before the triangles exploded; police officers would point their armalite rifles into the air and squeeze the triggers until the bullets ran out.  New Year’s Eve fireworks was always glorious.

Because I have so many good memories of all those New Year’s Eve family reunion and fireworks, I feel somewhat sad to know that Charlie and Jack will not have similar experiences.  They will most likely never know the exhilaration and fear that come with lighting their own firecracker and running away from it before it explodes in their hands.  Instead, they will watch fireworks from afar or on screen.  The fireworks they will know will be those that look pretty- smiley faces, hearts, fountain- instead of those that knock the breath out of them with their boom.  Charlie and Jack will likely not even be awake for fireworks- Mike and I will likely enforce their holy 8:30 bedtime

Ah, well, we live in a different time, country, and culture.  We do what feels right.  For now what feels right is a quiet hike in the woods and a quiet party with close friends and family.

Happy New Year everyone!