Christmas and New Year gifts

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto - The Philippine Star

It was a blue Christmas for many, especially those ravaged by Super Typhoon Odette that cut a wide swath of destruction across northern Mindanao and the Visayas. This year, we cooked the simplest meals and gave the most inexpensive gifts. What matters is the company, the camaraderie and the good cheer that no COVID or super typhoon can dampen.

My Christmas and New Year memories comprised many things. They include the Christmas songs already being played in the radio stations beginning Sept. 1, the sight of Christmas trees of all sizes being sold in the malls – and those giant, multicolored lanterns blinking by the roadside reminding you of many Christmases past. Or, in my case, of the gifts I have received, the simplest being the most memorable.

When I was 10 years old, my seatmate in school gave me a Christmas card that she herself had made. It was nothing fancy: just a piece of coupon bond folded in the middle, and on the cover she drew a simple lantern, the long red tail of crepe paper flowing in the wind.

When I was in college, I received a book of modern short stories during our Kris Kringle. I was 18 years old. It was a confusing time. I was enrolled in business management at Ateneo, trying to balance the books in Financial Accounting class. I could not balance the books, and all I wanted to do was to write short stories and poems.

Years later, when my father went to work abroad, he sent home a balikbayan box bursting with gifts. But I still remember the cassette tape that came with the box, which contained my father’s taped messages.

It contained words that I’m sure many sons and daughters have heard: Study well and work hard, respect old people and don’t forget to pray. And whatever you do during weekdays, don’t forget to go to mass on a Sunday. That last request I followed all the years I was studying abroad. My classmates and I would dance in the clubs of Edinburgh on Saturday night, but on Sunday morning, I would be there, at Robbins Hall, attending mass with a priest from Kenya who gave moving homilies.

It’s such an irony that the farther one goes away, the nearer he becomes. Those years when my father was so far away were the years he wrote to us – or told us through those tapes – what he felt. In his letters and in those tapes, thousands of miles away, my father’s deep and sad voice sounded so urgent and so near.

I’ve been teaching for three decades and received small and memorable gifts from some students.

They included a former student of mine who is now the vice president at a big university in Manila. She gave me “The Faber Book of Seductions” edited by Jenny Newman with a note meant to tease: “For my teacher in literature and seduction.”

Another time, I got a pair of truly hairy creatures from this famous gift shop. You lift this guy’s long bangs and voila! You have the guy’s appendage hanging between his legs. Well, this must be Gen Y’s version of the wooden man in a barrel from Baguio.

From two giggly girls at the back of the classroom, I got a white T-shirt with “Boners” silk-screened on it. But do these girls know what a boner means? In the middle of the shirt are eight sets of skeletons. They could look like coconut trees swaying in the wind. But no, these two skeletons are doing something in all imaginable positions!

But the students did not only give me gifts meant to tease me. They also gave gifts meant to save my soul.

One of the girls in class gave me a big rosary that glows in the dark. Two other girls in the next section gave me not one, but two, images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One of the boys – the most eloquent in class – also gave me a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary with this note: “No more half-naked characters, please.”

In my mind, I riffled through the films I’ve shown in class. The only one with a half-naked character was the film Innocent Erendira, a cinematic version of the late Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novella. But the young man supposedly plays the role of a young angel called Gabriel. He wants to save Erendira, the young sex worker, from her heartless grandmother, but instead, he falls in love with her. And then the angel and the sex worker make love.

In hindsight, I could not remember what I said in class that made some of my students give me images from the Catholic iconography. It’s as if they want to save me, or to bring me back to the straight and narrow path.

From a fellow poet and friend, I also received a book wrapped in beautiful paper you wouldn’t want to tear. The book is Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, as translated by Stephen Mitchell. I had lost my copy of Rilke’s book, which was sent to me decades ago by Maria Fatima V. Lim, another poet now living in the United States and a classmate of mine at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Mitchell is a brilliant translator. His foreword reads: “I felt, as many readers have felt, that the letters were written for me. From the very first pages, where solitude is considered a positive experience, my life seemed to acquire a new clarity and sanction. So even before I read a line of Rilke’s poetry, I regarded him as a spiritual teacher and came to treat him, in that small, light-green covered book, with the greatest respect, the way some people keep their copy of the I Ching wrapped in silk.”

May these beautiful words remind us that the moon has a dark and brilliant side. When the globe of the moon turns, it becomes awash with a cool and healing light.

*      *      *

Email: [email protected] “Radiance and Sunrise,” Danton Remoto’s translation of Lope K. Santos’ novel has just been published by Penguin.

vuukle comment


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with