Dec 1, 2010

THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS: During These Difficult Times

[Madelyne Pascua and Roger Evangelista]
by CJ Ancheta
[Cover Story]

The Fil-Am Observer has established a tradition of featuring everyday people with extraordinary stories each Christmas.

Our intent is to share with everyone how the heart of Christmas beats in all of us particularly during these difficult times.

While there are indications that the pall of gloom that has visited the United States during these recession years might no longer have the same overcast effect to many of us, we are mindful that out there—out into the other people’s lives and homes are challenges that have now become familiar, challenges that might still continue to take its toll on those who need to be reminded that Christmas is about life renewed, life eternal, life fully lived. 

War rages on in some other places, yet there is hope too.

There is lament in communities visited by force majeure, yet there is joy as well, with the laughter of children making the rounds of neighborhoods ever ready to give the goodies that make the children shout with glee.

It is Christmas over here, as it should be.

And for Roger Evangelista and Madelyne Pascua, both from Wailuku, Hawaii, it is the season long awaited, with its promise of the fullness of life’s blessings and some more.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” says a familiar Christmas song played over and over again.

And indeed it is so.

For Christmas means a lot to people—to many people who are familiar with its symbolisms and suggestions, with the vast possibilities of meanings it offers. And it means more so for those who share in that tradition that has gone on and on for thousands of years.

In the Philippines, for instance, Christmas begins at the start of the first month that ends in a ber: September.

There is over-enthusiasm over here, possibly fired by some commercial motive hidden elsewhere in the recesses of some business activities couched in that power of emotion that goes with gift-giving and remembering a loved one so far away.

But hundreds of years of Christianity in that country will not simply vanish in thin air in the coming years. The fact of the matter is that this will be reinforced further, and drummed up some more into the heads of the incoming generations who will always celebrate Christmas no matter what.

So from September to the January 6 Feast of the Three Wise Men, the magi who bore those gifts to the Child born in a manger, the festivities go round the clock in the homeland of many people who have come to the State of Hawaii to eke out a new life over here.

“Christmas is a momentous event that acknowledges the fact that Jesus Christ is the most precious gift God has given to mankind,” Roger says.

Roger, a stroke survivor, has gone through a lot in his fight to restore his health.
“The greatest gift I have ever received is a new life,” he tells the Fil-Am Observer in an interview.

“About a year ago, I was rushed to Maui Memorial Hospital because of a stroke. It was something not in the books, something unexpected. Stroke is something no one should ever take for granted. The consequences are devastating, the recovery difficult when not attended to at the right time,” Roger says.

“I thank God for this gift of another life. It is a new life, one I will always be grateful of. Perhaps I have a mission to do, some work I need to accomplish. I want to understand what this is, what this gift of a new life is all about in much the same way God sent the Son of Man to offer us the gift of a new life if we only believe,” he says reflectively.

Retired from GTE Hawaiian Tel., he is now preoccupied with his grandsons. Some of his time he devotes to the Maui Veterans Council.

With wife Nenita, a retiree of Hale Makua, Roger starts to prepare for Christmas right after Thanksgiving.

With the help of other members of their family, the putting on of Christmas decoration starts precisely on that day, right after partaking the traditional turkey.

“On Christmas day, we hold a family get-together. Family members and friends come by to partake with us the meal we prepare. There is always the usual Christmas fare. But a lechon is also on standby, waiting for the slicing, its roasted skin crackling with the crackling of the crisp air coming from the fields or the sea close by. We go to our in-laws afterwards, and with these rituals and ceremonies of our lives during Christmas, we are able to come full circle with joy, goodness, and cheers,” he says, his happy voice the sound of a fulfilled man.            

He tells us of Sungadan in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, the barrio he comes from. At 9, in 1953, his family moved to Hawaii.

He remembers the simple life of that barrio: “I used to go caroling with other kids from our neighborhood. That was a lot of singing, sometimes, singing the same song from house to house. I also saw how the lanterns were made, how they gleamed in the moonlight, how their trains swayed with the breeze. In my barrio, there was no Christmas tree, more so the one with snow on it. We had natural trees all over the place that gave off those natural feel of what Christmas was in the tropics.”

He tells of how Christmas is celebrated differently in the Philippines. “There is more gaiety in there, more spontaneity. The extended family is just there, each member truly enjoying each other in that one day of the year we call the birth of the baby in the manger. Nothing is rushed. Time stands still. And thus you have more quality time to be—just to be—with each other.”
For Madelyn Pascua, “Christmas to me is when families and friends come together and show their unconditional love for one another without having to exchange presents.  With that being said, my Christmas wish is for God to continue to give me strength, to make me persevere, to give me with good health. I ask the same for me and my family."
“Our Christmas celebration begins the Friday after Thanksgiving. We start to decorate three trees, one for each child.  This year, I am adding a fourth tree. The fourth tree represents all the family members we have lost.” 
Through the years, Madelyn’s family has kept a tradition: they attend the midnight mass together and after that midnight, they all go back home to open their gifts.

Her children were never allowed to open their gifts before that time, a practice that they have been able to keep until today.

Part of their Christmas celebration is a parlor game. One game is a family history test. The one who scores the highest is given a monetary gift.

Madelyne is married to Ray and they have  three children by: Paul Anthony, 24, Katrina Cassandra, 22, and Michella Kristina, 20.

For Madelyne, her most memorable gift was meeting her father’s family for the first time when at nine she finally came to Hawaii.

As the founder of Dance International Production, her group had the chance to visit the Philippines in 2006 during Christmas time. They had experienced the traditional way of preparing the tupig, the native rice cake wrapped with banana leaves and roasted in a pit oven.

Roger and Madelyne—their families included—are typical people doing extraordinary ways to make the celebration of Christmas truly meaningful.

Indeed, Christmas is not about gifts; it is about the giving of self.

It is not about riches; it is about our openness to the grace of God.

For the heart of Christmas is in our welcoming hearts.

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