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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Three decades of Canadian Christmas --- that should be enough of White Christmas, shouldn't it? But we did not have one this time. Green was more like it. It rained instead and the streets are clean. One can also see the bare trees lining the avenues, most homes lit with an arrantly scandalous disregard for the city's energy-saving programmes --- the birches shorn of their leaves, the maple leaf trees bald and supplicating with their bare branches to a grey sky sans the stars one would have seen in the old country, coming out of church after the Misa de Gallo.

(The CCC on Christmas Day, 2009)

(Below, the Kwan-Casugas, left, and the Casuga-Ocampos, right)

(Below, the Dy-Casugas and Lalonde-Casugas)

Our CCC (Casuga Clan in Canada) celebrated Christmas eve and Christmas Day pretty much the same way we have had as émigrés of some three decades: trek to the family host’s house (this time, the House of the Dy’s) on the eve of Christmas, drop off the pot-luck assignment, go to the nearest church (almost an hour early so we could get us a pew for the now 20 members of the clan --- we should plan to donate enough for a pew permanently reserved for us in the three Catholic parishes where we find our homes distributed (St. Francis of Assisi for the Padre y Madre de Familia, the eldest --- still efficiently soltera and solicitously Tia Grande, grand aunt to the four sobrinos and five sobrinas --- and the runt of the brood of five whose family spent this Christmas in Ottawa with her Lalonde in-laws; St. Francis Xavier Parish for daughters number 2 and 4, and Church of the Merciful Redeemer for the unico hijo (only son) who was host three Christmases ago), retreat to the Christmas host’s home for Noche Buena dinner, open the gifts at the stroke of midnight (thanks to the preponderance of gift cards, I did not have to suffer through the crush of shopping for gifts or shelling out crass cash in holiday envelopes), and spend the rest of the Visperas de Navidad evening catching up on facts and fancy on the state of the family union and the hopes and dreams of each child, in-law, and grandchild, and staying out of harm’s way while grandpa and grandma and the bansheeing grandkids whip and whack virtual bowling balls on the Wii and the family techno-geniuses hectoring everyone on how to wield those infernal batons for a basketball goal, baseball swing, tennis lob, ski-jump, boxing jabs, and screaming matches on who is killing who on the violence-ridden videos on the X-packs, only to find gratuitous relief when all the grandchildren and their Tias and Tios settle down to an eerie silence while they wrangle with their invidividual DS’s (“Double Screens, Lolo”, one gets a primer from the nerdy nieta with the coke-bottle-bottom eyeglasses when one wonders what the devil is a DS and all the abbreviations they use to describe their new-fangled gizmos and games) and Ipods, Blackberries, cellphones, and heaven-knows what contraptions Microsoft and the tele-digital world has introduced, and take leave at dawn with assurances to be back bright-and-early on Christmas Day for “brunch-lunch-dinner-snacks-more-games-and-don’t-forget-the-karaoke-sessions-so we could-get-abuelo-to-croon-like-Sinatra-and-abuela- tremolo-like-the-Carpenters”, and one finally settles on the sofa for a snooze after a late lunch and drift in-and-out of the charivari. This is my Christmas Gift --- the sound of my family being happy. The one touch of novelty this Christmastime is my introduction of a “new” tradition --- the Pater Familias (that’s me), as long as he remains alive for the Pascuas to come, will bring a Belen (the Nativity Scene) or the replica of the Child on the Manger to the home of the host on Christmas Day. The Child must find an inn in the hearts of our homes.

The Melvillean paragraph above might have blinded you by this time, so let me hasten to recall a Christmas in my youth. Quite another Christmas. My pascuas pasadas.

My dearly missed and cherished abuela, Senora Sotera Martinez de Buenaventura, on her annual visit to our home, would dress me up in my best short pants and newest shirts and spiffiest socks and shoes, slip into her grandest-looking terna (celebratory attire), and we would walk to the San Fernando, La Union, Cathedral of San Guillermo, attend the midnight mass (for her, snore through it all for 6-year-old me), and walk back home for the Noche Buena of arroz caldo (rice gruel with chicken), then my three sisters and I would open our gifts. I would be deliriously happy to find a box of raisins, a toy pistol, a wrapped-in-banana-leaf suman (rice-cake), and a panuelito (little hanky from abuela). We would stay up for the itinerant carollers who would sing for a coin to make their Christmas merry. We would make sure the light inside the farol (bamboo-and-paper lanterns shaped like the Bethlehem Star) would be out before we went to sleep, and wake up on Christmas Day to steaming chocolate, pan de sal (salted bread) or pan de limon (lemon bread) with a small plate of fried rice and tapa (fried beef slice), and a slice of mango or papaya. Breakfast done, father and mother, on matriarchal-edict from my abuela, would bring us to church on Christmas Day and eat an exotic lunch at the town’s only Chinese restaurant. Dad would have a beer, mom a crème de cacao, and we walk back home to dream of the next Christmas with grandmothers, Sotera, and the story-telling abuela, Teodora Flores de Casuga.

After Christmas Day, outside in my grandmother Teodora’s orchard of chicos, guavas, papaya, and guayabano, we would help her dismantle her Belen constructed in the banana grove, some manger made of dried banana leaves and hay, a Santo Nino (image of the baby Jesus) brought by my abuela Sotera from Baguio City, and the wooden images of Mary and Joseph artfully designed by my late Uncle Joe, a jack-of-all –trades Tio who strangely refrained from drinking alcoholic libations or getting drunk only on Christmas.

A tale of two Christmases.

Today, December 26, being the Feast Day of the Holy Family (La Sagrada Familia) --- and was only reminded by the sermon of the priest in this afternoon's Mass --- I consider it serendipitous that I should be "blogging" on my family. Taking off from the Gospel on the finding of Jesus who got lost in the Temple, the priest acrostically defined the family thus: F (father), A (and), M (mother), I (I for all the children) L (love), Y (you). "Love one another, as I love you," the Teacher counselled his disciples. Indeed, it is love in the family that, when extrapolated universally, binds all humanity together in hope, faith, or in adversity. Man shall prevail because Love has its seed in the invidividual. E pluribus unum (from the many comes One) et vice versa (and the other way around). From the acorn seed sprouts the majestic oak.

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