Ever since October 23, 2016 I struggle with the day and my waring emotions. For 25 years the date marked my wedding anniversary, which was always celebrated in style. Then my world came to a screeching halt when my mother took her final breath and left this mortal world on the same date and transformed the celebration to grief. So when October rolls around, this sense of restlessness and disquiet inevitably washes over me, knowing that the day which used to be a joyful occasion is forever ingrained in my soul as one of the greatest losses in my life.
I considered several themes for a blog to honour my mother, choosing from the plethora of memories I shared with my best friend, confidante and partner in crime. She was my champion and protector all in one, a fierce and impulsive woman but with a generosity and kindness that humbled me at each turn. We fought like cats and dogs on the worst days, but we loved each other unconditionally, and I owe much of my strength and courage to her.
The decision what to write about for Mommy’s 5th death anniversary was made for me last night by my cousin Yvette, via a short message on the family group chat. So sit back and enjoy!
Up until my 11th birthday, Mommy decorated the house for Christmas in the traditional manner, the colourful tree, pots of fresh poinsettias around the house, and the nativity scene. There was no drama, no snowmen, or any other frill and thrills that I came to know and treasure during later years. When Daddy was posted to Mexico City, Mommy became part of a wonderful arts and crafts circle of Mormon ladies, the invitation extended to her by Aunt Cheren, the wife of Daddy’s boss. Mommy was never one to dabble in crafts of any kind, so it was much to our surprise that she suddenly took to sewing felt and sequin decorations for the Christmas tree, snowmen made from soup cans and cotton, Christmas tree skirts, and so on. Then one year, we were introduced to the concept of the Christmas Village.
Uncle Paul (Cheren’s husband) loved to build things for his children and grandchildren. He made the most exquisite doll houses, toy boxes, and a host of other things out of wood. He also made the most adorable little wooden houses not more than 5cm in height with little windows which Cheren then decorated with felt and sequins, and placed lights inside for illumination. They added one house every year to their little Santa’s village, and Mommy was fascinated. Quite frankly, so was I, and we were thrilled when Uncle Paul gave us a “starter set” of four wooden houses one year.
Mommy and I took it up a notch and added some of the Disney figurines that we had collected over the years from our various trips to Disneyland, which made it all look more like a Disney storybook rather than Santa’s village, hence the name change to Christmas Village. Mommy then began adding fresh plants and artificial Christmas trees and the project grew each year, to the extent that it became the centrepiece of the decorations. The neighbours loved it, family members admired it, and it was such a source of joy to all, especially Mommy.
Mommy stopped putting up the Christmas Village when I got married and moved away in 1993, claiming that it was no longer fun to do it on her own. It was time to pass the torch, she said, and I carried on the tradition in India, of all places. because it was around this time that we began collecting medieval-themed ceramic houses and Christmas village figurines from Germany. My version of the village took on a distinctly subdued European character, a far cry from Mommy’s and Aunt Cheren’s colourful and quirky versions, but when Mommy saw my village she was thrilled, and suddenly dumped all her village knick knacks on me and I ended up with two villages for a while. The cats loved the villages, especially the miniature choir boys, which we kept replacing but to no avail. Then my daughter was born and loved all the stories Mommy wove around the villages.
One fortuitous year during our Manila posting, circa 2007, after a prayer meeting that took place in our home, one of the women stopped to admire the Christmas village and noticed that I had added a few of the KLM ceramic houses that you get on Business Class. She smiled and said she had a collection of these houses stashed away somewhere courtesy of her late husband who used to travel a lot for work, would I be interested? I didn’t even bother to blink and jumped at the opportunity. So I drove over to her house to collect the loot, and almost fainted when I was handed over a large moving box with over 50 of these ceramic houses. Talk about urban upgrade! Our humble little village suddenly became a thriving town, complete with medieval city hall and at least two roads, not to mention a church! The cat had a ball and Mommy was delighted. All it was missing was a train station…
All of this came to an end in 2016 during the division of property, and I didn’t claim any of the village decorations, followed by Mommy’s untimely demise. A few months later I moved to Berlin and couldn’t be bothered to start a village in my little space. Unbeknownst to me, however, my cousin Yvette has carried on the tradition in their home for many years, and it was such a joy to discover that the family Christmas village lives on!
So Yvette, this story is for you my dear. Thank you for keeping Christmas Village alive. I am sure Mommy is smiling down on it and wishing she could have a slice of bibingka to munch on while admiring your work.
NB: I have no photos anymore of the Christmas villages. If you are wondering about the photograph I used, click HERE for the full story.