Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Unbearable Lights Of Christmas

I walked over to the other theater from ours at half past 6 tonight. Halfway through, the lights all over the park went dim and a male voice came booming from the speakers. "Ladies and gentlemen, Maestro Mickey!", he said. Or something to that effect. Then his announcement was quickly followed by the Putonghua translation.

It was time for the lighting of the castle. The music faded in and went up and Mickey sliced the air with his baton. Fireworks. They shot up and lit the black evening sky and sprinkled like gold, shining confettis way up in the air --- like pixie dust --- and disappeared quickly, one confetti after the other, as if they had been swallowed by the mysterious blackness of the sky.

The music segued to a full-orchestra arrangement of Carol of the Bells and went to an overpowering crescendo. The tower of the castle was briefly covered with bright lights. When its lights died, another part's lit. And it went on and on and the lights seemed to be dancing to the music. Catching every poignant note, and keeping silent in the rests of the music.

I remembered our family Christmases during my childhood. My cousins, who grew up in the middle of the ancestral rice fields from Nueva Ecija, would come to Manila every year to celebrate the holidays there. We'd bring them around Cubao. They'd be so mesmerized with the lights that hung in every building and every tree in Araneta Center, and we'd just spend hours walking and walking, stopping every 5 minutes to take pictures of almost anything and everything there was --- SM Cubao, Ali Mall, the giant Araneta Christmas tree, Fiesta Carnival, Araneta Coliseum, the street vendors, the food, the streets themselves... Then we'd wrap up our little holiday trip by buying fried dried squid and park ourselves in front of C.O.D. to watch their annual Christmas mannequin show.

photo credit: larawan

Once, on our way home from Cubao, as we were all packed in my uncle's red Ford Fierra, one of my cousins exclaimed, "Ang ganda-ganda ng mga ilaw! (The lights are very beautiful!)".

Then my mom said, "Para ka na ring nasa Disneyland, no? (Almost feels likes your in Disneyland, doesn't it?)"

My dad, sitting in front, beside my uncle who was driving protested. "Hindi ah! Mas maganda ang Disneyland. Pag nagtatrabaho na yung mga anak ko, pupunta tayo dun! (Of course not. This doesn't compare to Disneyland. When the time comes that my sons are already working, we will all go there."

It must have been 20 years ago. I don't exactly know when this happened. But I do remember that episode so well until now because that night, I promised myself I will someday bring them to Disneyland. I kept quiet and didn't tell a soul about it, because I wasn't sure I could ever fulfill my promise.

As we grew older, Cubao somehow lost its charm to us. Eventually, our family reunions were moved to Baguio. Though those Christmas trips weren't the slightest bit less fun, none of them compared to our Christmases in Cubao. In August of 2002, dad passed away and our family reunions became more meaningful. It was the time of the year when mom would see her brothers and sisters and reconnect with them, alleviating her sadness and depression. But still, none of those compared to our Christmases in Cubao.

This will be my third Christmas away from family. My brother's second. Our family's 6th Christmas without Oca. While Remi has enjoyed so many times (and will continue to do so) my Disneyland promise to them, Oca wasn't able to wait 3 more years. He would've loved to be walking around the "happiest place on earth" with Remi. And I would've loved performing, knowing that he and she and Mai were in the audience. He passed away without ever seeing me or Mai perform professionally. His diabetes was already in a bad stage when we started doing professional work. He'd always have wounds in his feet and could not wear shoes. He was afraid of being refused admission because of his footwear so he never dared. But here, in Disney, he could come in wearing anything in his feet. He could see my show in flip-flops with Mai and Remi, and no one would mind.

photo credit: jacky

I stood there in the middle of the crowd tonight, my senses totally oblivious of the people around me. Slowly, the sound coming from the crowd faded as if they were all very, very distant from where I was standing. All I could hear was the melodious sound of Carol of the Bells. All I could see was the castle and how, little by little, it got totally covered in what seemed to be millions of tiny, bright lights. All I could smell was the crispness of the winter air. And all I could feel was my family, standing with me in front of the majestic castle they once dreamed to see.