Daddy Rafael Rufino and Mommy Julie (nee Abad) raised a family of seven: Emmanuel “Manny” (born on 23 December), Rafael Jr. “Raffy” +, Antonio “Tony,” Guillermo “Guilly” +, Asuncion “Asunta”, Maria Victoria “Mav” and Jose Mari “Joey”+.
Christmas for our family of seven, as we children were growing up, was spent in our home on Taft Avenue or in our second home in Baguio.
We attended Misa de Gallo at the parish church and had bibingka, puto bumbong and hot chocolate. We practiced Kris Kringle, too.
Christmas Eve Mass was always a wondrous event. I remember the priest’s long sermon, the choir singing “Adeste Fidelis,” the flickering candles. We went home to have noche buena — pan de sal, queso de bola and hot chocolate. The formal table was beautifully set with poinsettias, silver cutlery, porcelain dishes and crystal goblets.
The aromatic fresh pine tree had a sparkling star, candy canes, shiny gold and red ornaments and silver trimmings. The Belen with the Holy Family was beautifully set, surrounded by our presents. We had to sleep early so that we could open our presents from Santa Claus in the morning.
After the Christmas Day Mass, we gathered with the entire clan of “EVER” (the acronym for the Rufino siblings Ernesto, Vicente, Ester and Rafael) at our Lola Mercedes Pantangco Rufino’s house for lunch. She served the best family dish, pakam — chicken simmered with salty cucumber and ginger. The lechon, turkey and other delightful dishes were on the buffet table but we all preferred Lola’s pakam.
Christmas break in Baguio was chilly and fun. We toasted marshmallows in the fireplace and we listened to Christmas carolers who went around our houses on the hill of Navy Road overlooking the Baguio Zoo.
Since St. Joseph’s church on Pacdal Road was near our home, we just walked all bundled up or rode the car to attend Midnight Mass. The feast on the table was basically the same. But along with Pakam, there were homemade leche flan made with carabao’s milk, jams, ube jalea and other goodies not usually served in Manila. Mommy was a good pastry chef and Daddy was a very good cook. They both taught our old cook Felicing the important dishes for the holiday season.
We eagerly awaited the Three Kings. They came at night while we were sleeping to put cash into our shoes on the wooden staircase.
We usually received simple gifts from our parents. I once got a gorgeous walking, talking doll. She had a record player in her back. Another gift I liked was the small palayok set. I could make my own bibingka.
I made my own art cards for my parents. They probably appreciated a gift that I made rather than something I bought. Later on, I would give Mommy a shawl or a scarf, a bag or a crystal vase. She had exquisite taste so it was difficult to choose a gift. Later on, I gave her my paintings. She had two big walls with my Chinese paintings (1975-85) and my dreamscapes (1987-2001).
After Daddy passed on, we had more simple, scaled down celebrations. We eventually had small Christmas Eve dinners and lunch at Mommy’s house. Later, Christmas lunch was held at Tony and Mita’s house with a huge garden filled with orchids. Mita took over the hosting duties so that Mommy would not be so stressed having to serve food for our growing family and the grandkids.
In the 90s until Mommy passed in 2001, I started hosting intimate Christmas Eve dinners for Mommy and my single siblings and our kids. She enjoyed being pampered for a change. I prepared chicken relleno and salad, eggplant Parmigiano, tiramisu and cakes. Mass was moved earlier to 9:30 p.m. On Christmas Day, we still heard Mass and went to the big family luncheons.
It seems that I grew up in a time bubble
— when life was genteel, simple, innocent, elegant and kind. Family love was the best thing to us. Daddy and Mommy were the center of our universe. They raised us well and sent us to distant countries to study and learn how to be independent.
Through the years, my parents and my aunties contributed to various charities especially during Christmas.
It’s Christmas week and the pandemic has changed our lives and how we do things. We have Zoom masses, rosaries and Zoom meetings. No family gatherings are allowed.
We miss Mommy but we have the memories of the colorful, happy times. We are learning how to adapt and cope with the challenges and losses. We have lost our brother Guilly and good friends during this crisis.
Christmas is all about the coming of Jesus and sharing our blessings with the less fortunate. We are grateful to the Lord that we are alive and we have hope. We pray for the protection and healing of our families, our country and the world.