It’s that time of year again. People start thinking about the previous year and that leads to widespread reminiscing about years and years gone by. For some reason, I find this whole process a bit depressing. Perhaps because I tend to remember all the things I aspired to accomplish, but have not. Panic sets in because I realize I’m running out of time and then I am filled with regret. This is rather odd because I typically am an optimistic, glass-half-full sort of gal. Plop me smack in the middle of the most tragically catastrophic calamity you can muster and I will be able to find something positive in it. This is why what I am about to confess is such a confounded mystery. I can’t explain it, but the ceremonial passing from one year to the next and all the sentimentality that comes with it makes me really, really melancholy. Year in and year out I suffer with an affliction I call the New Year’s Eve Melancholies. Since I really don’t like feeling melancholy, even for one day, I decided to make a deal with myself this year. I suppose you might call it a New Year’s Eve Resolution. This year-end will be different. I won’t feel sad at the passing of time. I won’t wonder where the years went. I won’t allow the idea of life slipping through my fingers to afflict me with the blues. I will not focus on all of my unmet goals, my lack of achievement or my ever-lengthening list of would’ves, could’ves, or should’ves. I hereby take my thoughts captive and focus on my small victories, the things I get done in the course of just another ordinary day. I will focus on my blessings. Yes indeed. That’s the answer! I will not be chapfallen. I will be cheerful! I will not be downhearted. I will be uplifted! There will be no hang-dog expression on my face. I will wear a happy smile! I know what all of you are thinking, and no, I did not procure a prescription on the black market for Prozac. I say the secret to happiness is accentuating the positive, “You’ve got to ac-cent-u-ate the positive. E-lim-in-ate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.” (Accentuate the Positive music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, 1944). I’ve given this a lot of thought and I came up with a practical plan for accentuating the positive. This plan is my defense against any impending New Year’s Eve Melancholies that threaten to come my way. Before I reveal the logistics and explain how I aim to execute my plan, I need to give you some background.
My children are Italian-Filipino hybrids. They get their Italian genes from me and their Filipino genes from my husband. I think I’ve been successful at maintaining the richness of our Italian roots by exposing Christian and Jared to our ethnic culture, foods and traditions. For example, on Christmas Eve we always enjoy a feast of seven fishes prepared by Grandma and Papa (my parents). We set our shoes by the front door so La Befana (the Christmas witch who rides around the world on a broom) can fill them with goodies on January 5, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany. We talk loudly, at times on the verge of screaming even when we are not angry or elated about something, and when we are, we have trouble hiding it. We flail our hands around wildly when we talk and employ histrionics to convey a story or make even the most insignificant point. And of course, we freely display affection by hugging and kissing our family, friends, coworkers, even people we’ve met for the very first time so long as we establish they are connected in some way to a confirmed paesano/paesana. We spent two weeks in Italy a few years ago, which revealed a lot to Christian and Jared about their Italian heritage, or if you ask them, explains a lot about why I am the way I am…
I have not been as good about immersing my boys in all things Filipino as I would have liked, but I’m not going to get caught up in feeling guilty over it. For one thing, there is no denying their Filipino blood. My goodness. Each and every time they look in the mirror it’s a reminder that they are who they are and there’s no refuting who their father is. From my earliest days of motherhood when strangers mistook me for the nanny, I always have proclaimed the unfairness of my situation. I did all the work (pregnancy and labor) and Pat gets all the credit. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have the stretch marks, sagging breasts, gray hair, wrinkles and overall frazzled look about me to prove I am their mother if need be, but pose the four of us side by side for a family photo and I am the obvious choice in a game of One of These Things Is Not Like the Others.
If you ask me, instilling the Filipino-identity really should be Pat’s responsibility. Unfortunately, aside from his habit of making all sorts of bizarre noises with his mouth to get our attention, he’s not particularly acquainted with the traditions dictated by his own culture. Therefore, the onus of cultivating both the Italian-ness and Filipino-ness in the boys has fallen on my shoulders. Let me say, I have not been completely remiss. I made it a point to hang around my mother-in-law’s kitchen enough over the years to have gotten pretty good at whipping up pancit, chicken adobo, and bibingka. I even made my own empanadas last year, filling and all. Still, I have not been as good at keeping Christian and Jared in touch with the Filipino halves of themselves as I have with the Italian halves.
As I pondered my options for devising a plan to fend off the melancholies, I decided to set my efforts on the celebratory aspects of ringing in 2011. Forget about that gloomy song, Auld Lang Syne. I’m talking about party hats, noise makers, horns, fireworks, champagne! The whole nine yards, and just as I was making my Party City shopping list, it hit me. Since we’re celebrating in Virginia with the Filipino clan, why not incorporate some Filipino traditions into the celebration? Talk about killing two birds with one stone. I mount a defense against the New Year’s Eve Melancholies and simultaneously strike ethnic balance in my boys’ lives all by embracing the New Year’s Eve traditions shared by generation after generation of their Filipino kinsfolk! (Imagine lightbulb inside puffy thought cloud above my head and choral refrain from Handel’s Messiah sounding in the background. Allelujiah! Allelujiah!). WOW! Once recovered from the shock that I am the mastermind of such a simple yet brilliant plan, I set out to engineer its execution. First, of course, I did a little research on the topic of authentic Filipino New Year’s Eve traditions. Here’s what I discovered.
On New Years Eve, Filipinos throw large parties called Media Noche, which involve consuming large quantities of traditional food like pancit, soups, pork dishes, and anything barbecued around the midnight hour. The highlight of the meal is typically a spit-roasted pig called Lechon. In the Filipino culture, circles are believed to attract money, and so the traditions of eating round fruit and wearing clothing with circular patterns (for example, polka dots) symbolize the desire for a prosperous year. Filipinos celebrate the passing from one year to the next in festive and boisterous fashion. Their enthusiasm is marked by donning brightly colored clothes and banging pots and pans, shouting, lighting fireworks, and blowing horns (called torotot). This is nothing short of ordinary when it comes to ringing in a new year, but I did discover a few interesting and unique Filipino traditions that tickled my fancy. At the stroke of midnight, Filipinos throw coins high into the air and run around shaking coins in metal containers. Doing this is said to increase wealth in the coming year. (SIDE NOTE: The mental image of my mother-in-law and father-in-law as newlyweds running around shaking metal coin boxes and tossing coins into the air is enough to keep me from getting melancholy.) Finally, if I had only known about this last tradition. At the stroke of midnight, Filipinos jump up and down in the air as high as they can with all their might. They do this because legend has it that it increases physical height and stature in the coming year. WHAT THE HECK? WHY DIDN’T MY IN-LAWS PASS ON THAT TRADITION?
Well, well, well. I probably do not have the wherewithal at this stage in the game to find and slaughter myself a pig, let alone get my hands on a spit, but based on the sounds and smells emanating from my mother-in-law’s kitchen, I feel certain that our Media Noche will be a feast of plenty! I certainly can handle the coins and metal containers, noisemakers and maybe even the polka dots. Even if my plans for a traditional Filipino, melancholy-free New Years Eve do not come to fruition, you can bet on one thing for certain. The Atlanta Datocs will be jumping at midnight.
In case I forget to say it tomorrow. Felice Capo d’Anno. Malingayang Pasko. Happy New Year.
Till tomorrow… Good night. Sleep tight.