I was checking my FB page and there was this “share your memory” feed in my timeline from 2012. I was in NYC in the photo, having lunch with my brothers. I like these share memories reminders. It gives me pleasure to remember the past, and if the memory is sad, it gives me another opportunity for healing. This photo with my brothers evokes nostalgia for past holidays. I was in NYC to experience El Dia de los Tres Reyes, the 35th annual parade of the Three Kings in Spanish Harlem. In the Philippines, which shared cultural experience with Mexico and the Americas during centuries of Spanish colonization, January 6, marks the end of the Christmas season. The holiday of Epiphany marks the biblical adoration of baby Jesus by the three Kings, also known as three Wise Men or Magi. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the men found the divine child by following a star across the desert for twelve days to Bethlehem. The exhausting progressive ditty, Twelve Days of Christmas alludes to this journey. Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar — representing Europe, Arabia, and Africa respectively — traveled by horse, camel, and elephant in order to offer baby Jesus with three symbolic gifts. Gold is acknowledgment of Jesus’ royal standing as “King of the Jews,” while the frankincense manifests the divine nature of his existence, since he is not an earthly king but the Son of God. And finally the myrrh, used to embalm corpses, is a symbol of Jesus’ mortality — foreshadowing his death in order to cleanse humanity of its sins.
Where I was born in the Philippines, children did not have visits from Santa Claus. I remember we used to hang our stockings outside our window on the eve of the Feast day of the Three Kings, Twelfth Night. We believed Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar came to visit in the night and filled our stockings with candies and small toys, on their way to greet baby Jesus.
I have grandchildren now, and their mother, my daughter, has discontinued the tradition and replaced it with Santa Claus. Inadvertently, I had traumatized her by having The Three Kings bring her gifts when she was little. Upon returning to school after the holidays, she must have felt awful, when everyone shared their presents from Santa Claus, and she had none.
In Spanish Harlem, the religious tradition is celebrated with a grand parade attended by more than 10,000 spectators, costumed participants riding on elaborate floats, giant puppets, school groups and civic organizations, marching bands, and live sheep, horses and camels. Nostalgia moved me to go and relive my childhood memories.
Continuing with FB share memories, I have photos in 2013 of my grand tour of the Philippines. While growing up in the Philippines, I had limited opportunities for travel. I immigrated to the US in 1967. After I obtained a US passport, I began traveling even before I could afford it, and was crisscrossing the world. I thought, I had not really seen the Philippines before I left it, why not be a tourist in my own country? So I promptly made plans to do so which I detailed in my book, Hello, From Somewhere: Stories of the Roads I Traveled, available in my website and from Amazon.com.
For two months in January and February of 2013 I covered the Philippines, from Batanes, the northernmost islands, to Mindanao, the southernmost island. In between I visited, Ifugao and its legendary rice terraces and the hanging graves of Bactad. I toured Ilokandia, Tagaytay, Cebu, Bohol, and Palawan and its surrounding unpopulated small islands and the underground river, and the finale, in depth Manila. I checked the offerings at the Philippine Cultural Center, and was blown away by the superb adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters in Tres Marias, and a contemporary dance recital by its ballet company. I was very impressed by the art exhibited in the National gallery and the private museums of Ayala, and Yuchengco are expertly curated with a rich collection of pre-Spanish artifacts. I topped my Manila discovery by hiring a calesa to tour Malate, Intramuros, crossed the Pasig river to Escolta, Quiapo, and Binondo, where I got off to join the celebratory crowd for the Chinese New Year of the tiger. Chinatown was stomach to buttock packed with people and it was a mystery to me how they cleared the crowd for the dragon dance to slither on the street. Then children beating cans and drums to a deafening roar visited stores to drive away bad karma. I retreated to an air-conditioned restaurant where the huge reception foyer was lined with dozens of tanks holding various swimming edible sea creatures, that you can select for your meal, cooked any style you desire. Out of this world!
My FB share memories also relives for me that I was in Iceland in 2014, and continued to Lapland in Sweden for a two-night stay in the breathtaking Ice Hotel. I took the trip to experience the aurora borealis, alas, it was not meant to be. Clouds covered the skies throughout my stay and deprived me of this heavenly light display. I returned via London and had an extended stay, to catch the blockbuster shows in the West End, and to check out the Tate Modern. in March, I was in India, Nepal and Bhutan. I then visited Pellicer cousins in Mexico City, then to Puebla, and onto Oaxaca to join friends for the Guelaguetza.
The FB memories of 2015 started with my post that my first book Hello, From Somewhere was ready for publication. As I was traveling in Southeast Asia, I had the galley delivered to my friend’s address, while I proceeded to Bicol to spend the holidays. I wanted to relive my childhood experience of celebrating Christmas in the province. The tradition of simbang gabi or misa de gallo, dawn masses at the crow of the rooster, held nine days before Christmas is still observed and capped by the midnight mass, first mass celebrated on Christmas day. The feast served after the mass, the noche buena, includes ibus, sweet rice and coconut steamed in cylindrical coconut leaf casings, sotanghon, mung bean noodle and chicken, Chinese ham, and queso de bola, aged edam-like cheese, and special fruits, persimmons and pomegranate. The memories recalled during these times in childhood are priceless and detailed in my second book, From Miman, With Love: A Grandmother’s Memoir. The book can be ordered from my website and from
After Christmas I took the bus from Naga City in Bicol to Manila, despite warnings of bus breakdowns and kidnappings from dear friends and family. I wanted to see the small towns along the route and the countryside which air travel denies. Regular travelers take the bus all the time and they are fine, so I figured I’d be fine too, and I was just that. The only problem was a 4-hour delay in arrival due to heavy New Year’s Eve traffic. Manila has over the top celebration to greet the New Year. I booked a room at the Heritage hotel where there is a rooftop deck with 360 degree view of the city. The fireworks was all around and lasted for hours after midnight engulfing the metro area in a thick cloud of smoke, and music and dancing were non-stop until dawn. In the morning I flew to Taiwan to join a friend in Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan. I failed to get off the train, missing my friend, because I slept through the train stop, and then I felt miserable throughout the trip, because I had developed cellulitis from an infected bug bite and had low grade fever, malaise, and stiff neck. I got over it, and had a great time. I returned to Manila, to open a copy of the newly published Hello, From Somewhere. Invited by my friend to use her home as a base to launch my trips, we went together to attend the Ati-Atihan festival in Kalibo, Aklan, where her sister’s in-laws are old members of the original clans who started the festival. We helped decorate and push the family float during the parade. The parades that climax the festival are reminiscent of the carnival in Rio, where colorful costumes, painted bodies, street dancing, hypnotic drum rhythms, and revelry, mark the occasion. It is a hybrid pagan and religious festival celebrated to honor the Santo Nino, the infant Jesus, and the friendship forged between the pre-Spanish settlers from Borneo and the indigenous inhabitants the Ati. From Aklan, we went to Hongkong, then I proceeded solo to Singapore and Macao. Back to Manila then a winding down in the luxurious Tugawe Cove resort in Caramoan, Camarines Sur, where wilderness surrounds it and pristine beaches and islands are visited including the island where the Survivors Reality TV series were filmed.
FB ended my memories there, That’s all for today.