Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Remembering my First Christmas in America

 "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)

I would have wanted to write about what I remember during my first Christmas in the Philippines but I was only a day and a half young then. Despite some scientific studies showing that babies of that age already have cognitive faculties, I must admit that I could not remember anything that would at least be of interest or significance to anybody. All I know is that I was born and baptized as Benjamin “JESUS” Maynigo, two days after my mother celebrated her birthday on the 21st of December and close to that of our Lord’s.
Baptismal Certificate bearing "JESUS" as middle name

But my first Christmas in America is something I remember and can scribble about as a writer. As a teenager living with an American foster family in Seal Beach, Orange County, California as a foreign exchange student under the American Field Service International Scholarship Program, I got to experience the Christmas of my life.

The Bauchwitz family were devout Catholics who followed most of the traditions that go with Christmas celebrations such as going to mass, Christmas parties, family reunions, caroling, Christmas cards and gift giving. Because I was far away from home, my foster family planned our Christmas so that it would be fun and memorable for me.

Let me focus on the gift-giving part. I loved it because understandably I was more a lucky recipient of those who in the spirit of Christmas were very happy to give me gifts. My foster Grandparents, for example, gave me seven gifts. I also received presents from my foster parents, three foster brothers (Harold, Barry and Freddie), foster sister Kay Ann, and foster Uncles and Aunties. Since I was adopted by the 200-member Seal Beach Women’s Club, I should receive a gift or gifts from them, right? Yes, I did. The AFS Club in school and the AFS Committee in the community somehow showed a similar spirit by also giving me gifts. What about the neighbors and my newly-found friends? Of course, they did! It was Christmas time and I was a very willing, thankful and appreciative gift receiver.  

While receiving gifts was fun and joyful, receiving and reading the Christmas cards from relatives and friends was as satisfying. Leading the way was my sister Manang Perla who was working as a nurse at the Mayo Clinic at that time and who also managed to insert a check. I also got cards from sisters Loreto and Nelly. Among my first cousins in the Maynigo side, I still have in my scrapbook the cards from Manang Ruth Maynigo Danao, Manong Manoling Maynigo and Father Vic Maynigo Arenas. From my first cousin on my mother’s side Manang Conching Gal-lang Raquel Duran was a memorable card. So were the Christmas cards that I received from friends such as Mrs. Felix Coloma and daughters Nenita, Olga and Bebe, Mrs. Flora Bass who featured me in the Philippines Free Press and town mate Manong Zosimo de Veas.
BGM with gifts and Christmas gift tags

Christmas Cards

Christmas is not just about having fun and gift-giving. It is also about giving up something you enjoy for others and meeting your responsibilities. While I could not afford to buy gifts, I remember giving up something which I enjoyed so much in order to meet my responsibilities as an AFS student and as a foster child.

Before coming to the United States, I enjoyed playing basketball in the Philippines. I was our high school’s Team Captain of the basketball team. In fact, I made it to the Pangasinan (provincial) Team which became the Central Luzon Athletic Association (ClAA) Champion. My being in the short list for the AFS Scholarship and the leading candidate to be Class Valedictorian prevented me from joining the team to the National Interscholastic Athletic Association Meet.

In Huntington Beach-Marina High School, I was recruited to try out for the Varsity Basketball Team by the one slotted to be Team Captain who played with me during gym class and against me during Intramurals. I enjoyed the drill and try-out sessions so much that I popularized the shout, “faster” which is the English translation of “bilis”.

I was told later that I made the team but I had to join all the practice sessions during the holidays and would have to miss some AFS speaking engagements and trips. It would have ruined the vacation plans of my foster parents and disappointed the local AFS Committee. At 5’8”, I would have been the shortest “small forward” but arguably the fastest, having been a one hundred meter dash runner in the Philippines.

I gave up basketball and the company of beautiful cheer leaders that came with it. But to Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and Sacramento we went and enjoy we did.  And more gifts in the process! So I had no regrets.

Pictures are worth a thousand of words. So I am reserving part of my space to show some scanned images that illustrate what I wrote above.

Let me end by quoting the words of some famous songs about Christmas:

“What a bright time, it’s the right time; To rock the night away.” (Jingle Bell Rock)

“Long lay the world; In sin and error pining; ‘Till he appeared and the soul felt his worth. The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” (Oh Holy Night)

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth; The everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” (O Little Town of Bethlehem)

Merry Christmas and MAyNIGOng Bagong Taon!

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