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It doesn’t have to be special to be special

Editor’s note: This is another of TGI staff sharing stories of favorite Christmas memories. If you would like to share a story of a favorite Christmas memory to be published in TGI, please email it to thasslinger@thegardenisland.com

When I was asked about my favorite Christmas memory, nothing particular came to mind. I joked at first and said it was the year I became too old to get gifts from all my aunties and uncles.

There’s no bitterness. It’s just how my family is. The children are the ones who get showered with presents, and the teenagers and young adults laugh about how we don’t get them anymore.

If any of us actually received a present that wasn’t from a parent or sibling, we would jovially, though partially jokingly, exclaim, “Wow! I got one!”

The more I tried to think of something specific, the more I came to a realization that Christmas with my family was quite routine. With the exception of gift giving, it was just like any of our family gatherings, whether it be a holiday, a birthday or simply another gathering, just because.

Food would be laid out on the dining room table and we would casually go at it buffet style.

All the aunties would gather at one table and gossip, or “chicka-chicka,” as they call it. Their voices would become a giant cloud of sound, especially when they would all laugh loudly in unison. When that burst of laughter erupted, it was impossible not to notice.

All the uncles would sit at another table, usually set up in the garage, and would also talk story as they shared snacks and a bottle of liquor. Sometimes, they’d set up a gambling table and put their dollars on the line in some card game or mahjong.

Older cousins would hang out either in the garage or in one of the cousins’ rooms. Sometimes we’d be in the backyard, probably because we’re still young enough to withstand the Northern California cold. And the kids would be running around every corner of the house, playing.

I don’t know how Filipino families are on Kauai, but where I’m from, a Filipino household was not complete without a karaoke machine. Mine was no different, and that thing would be raging all night, mostly because of our one uncle who hogged the microphone but had no business trying to sing his lungs out. We had no choice but to tolerate it, and I’ll let you figure out why.

Sometime before midnight, family portraits are taken in front of the Christmas tree. As each set of parents and children sat for their pictures, flashes from camera phones would bombard us. Who ever put themselves in charge of photo taking, usually an auntie, would take a ton. I remember it was bad enough when cameras used film. When our aunties got hold of digital cameras, my mother included, they really ran with it. It seemed never-ending at times.

As soon as the clock struck 12, everyone gathered around the tree and the emcee would hand off each gift one by one announcing who it was for and from whom. With each gift, the family would let out a “Yay!” Each kid beamed as they sat behind their mountain of gifts as us older ones sat back waiting to see if any of us would win the lottery.

After gift giving, we’d go back to whatever it was we were doing. And we’d eat some more. Then we’d say our goodbyes when everyone was full and tired, usually leaving around 4 or 5 in the morning. From when I was a kid until now, that has been the pattern.

For those who believe each Christmas has to stand out or has to be better than the year before, I’d say it really doesn’t matter much. It doesn’t matter how flashy and colorful the lights were or how many gifts one received. What matters is that your time during the holiday was spent with your loved ones.

As cheesy as that sounds, take it from someone who won’t be with his family. As exciting as it was to move here last year, and I am grateful for the opportunity, times were difficult that first Christmas when I wasn’t with my family. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t there with them to go through the motions.

Instead, I Skyped with my sister as she held her iPhone in front of everyone as I waved to them through the camera. Comically, I was still able to take a family portrait with them as my grandmother, with everyone behind her and my grandfather, held my sister’s phone up and there I saw someone with a camera counting down, “One, two, three, say cheese!”

No, our Christmas gatherings were no different from the last. I’m sure nothing will change this year, but I still miss them. And though not being with them again this year stings, I look forward to when I am able to go back home for the holidays.

When that time comes and I’m reunited with them, I already know that no matter how much time has past, how much older we’ve gotten or where life has taken us, it will be as if nothing has changed when we’re together.

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Nick Celario is the sports editor for The Garden Island.

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