The very first thing I was excited about moving to Holland was the winters. In all of my 17 years on earth, never had I experienced what winter felt like. The country, Philippines, where I came from lies right above the equator. That is why even if you go anywhere, even to the tip of the Philippines, it was a country not blessed with four seasons, including winter itself.
So of course, there was not a single speck of snow that you can see falling. At that time, I believed that it was a privilege to wear winter coats, shawls, and woolen bonnets. December was also about making snowmen, throwing snowballs, and ice-skating on a real snow, like how I saw it in the movies. But without snow, all of that wasn’t possible.
And when I came to Holland, it was barely possible.
“It rarely snows in the Netherlands these few years,” a friend of mine said, on the way going to church on a Sunday dark morning. I was disappointed. However, being able to feel the prick of the freezing breeze on my cheeks was already surreal enough that I forgot my dissatisfaction behind.
On rare occasions, it snowed. At those moments, I did experience how it felt like to walk on snow. I still remembered how my shoes crunched with every step and how I couldn't feel my hands when I played with it. Snow lasted for a few days. Holland couldn't give me much snow like how I expected, and I realized I should stop defining December about Winter Wonderland because December was about Christmas.
I attended my Christmas parties with familiar looking faces--most of them born from my homeland. Living here in Holland for most of their life must have stripped away their roots because it never felt like home. It felt too foreign to be here.
I had the same feeling when I had dinner on the 25th of December together with my aunt and with her daughters. Seeing the faces of the people who I've been living with for just barely a month, made my heart drop. This was what my Christmas was: a celebration with strangers.
Even the dinner wasn't too special. Count the times when I couldn't speak my native language, because all of them were speaking in a language I couldn't even understand. That was a signal for me to know what was happening: they weren't foreigners like how I perceived them. I was actually the foreign one in this country. I was far away from the Philippines, far away from home. I was in a land, so cold and dark.
I couldn't help but look back. In my country, which was not blessed with winter, has been blessed with the best Christmas experience ever. When I was younger, I remembered Christmas lights laced in every walls of the houses. There were also magical parols hung before the doors. Everywhere, it was bright, brighter than the fireworks in the sky. I can even remember when neighbors knocked on our doors to sing a Christmas song. Everywhere, it was also joy and music.
And the best part about Christmas in the Philippines? The Noche Buena--the grand family dinner. Lechon, a roasted whole pig, was the first thing you'll see on the table. Aside from that, you'd see roasted belly of pork, chicken, barbecue, fish...and a whole lot more anything related to roasting your food above the coals.
It was another Christmas day the day after that. A day of waking up to see that Santa Claus had dropped a present. December to me at that time was pretending to be a good kid, because then, a gift pops up under the Christmas tree. Sometimes though, the gift didn't match my wishlist. Years later, my mom confessed that it was her pretending to be Santa.
Growing up, I had celebrated most of my Christmas together with my dad never home. And when he finally did, Christmas 2012 happened to be the Christmas when my family collapsed for good. At that moment, I didn't notice lights, or the songs, for it was only tears shed. It was the worst Christmas I ever had.
And the following years, I didn't feel the Christmas spirit anymore. My mom had stopped being Santa. There was no Noche Buena, or the big roasted pig, Lechon anymore. Plus, my dad was a thousand miles away from home. The more I celebrated Christmas, the more something was missing. And then I realized, I just wanted everything to be the same just like when I was younger. The more I grew up, the more it made me want look back. But it was only torment. I told myself to stop expecting grand presents or fairytales of a magical Christmas. Because just like how snow melts, or how fireworks fade, or how December goes, it'll come to an end. However, things end only because we have to pave way for the new beginnings. And thanks through the birth of Jesus Christ,the life of the month December, we are able to celebrate Christmas.
Even if most of my Christmas were celebrated without my dad, I am still grateful. It was through his life that he provided our Noche Buena and the Christmas lights we had at home. Truly, he had always been there for our family through his hard work. Thanks to him, for he was also the one who brought me to Holland. Through him, I experienced the snow, the winter, and what Christmas felt like in the Netherlands.
I may be far away from home right now, but at the same time, it is a privilege to be able to share my blessings to the people in this foreign country. With all my heart, I can truly say that I am blessed to be here, in this new home.