Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas at the Cemetery

Whenever my parents would go out on Christmas, I always declined, thinking that I had better things to do at home, such as sleep or read. This year, I was still deprived of sleep, but when my dad asked me if I wanted to come with him, I said yes.

The destination was my grandfather and grandmother's grave at the Chinese cemetery. Just the other day, before Christmas eve, we went to our grandmother's grave near Makati because it was her death anniversary (she died in mid-December). That wasn't the case now for my grandparents died on different months.

On the way there, my father told me that the South Gate was the one gate that was always open. Not that there was any traffic to contend with that day since people don't usually go out on Christmas mornings, much less visit graveyards. Yet it's been a practice of my father to visit the tombs of his parents on a regular basis.

Upon arriving at my grandparent's grave, I saw that the candles on the graves were lit. My father pointed out to me where he wanted to be buried. He also pointed out the would-be graves of some of my relatives. Apparently, my father was taking charge of the burial plans of his relatives, and was shouldering all the costs. While funerals can be expensive, burial maintenance is perhaps more costly, especially when taken from the long term point of view. It was also then that I learned that my father visited the graves of his clan once a week, usually on Sunday mornings.

Not everyone is celebrating Christmas at their homes. The caretakers of the tomb were present, and when my father asked if they had any "noche buena" (tradition where one has a hearty meal on Christmas eve) last night, they could only shake their head. There were eight security guards on duty and when one of them saw my dad, he called the others and they all gathered around my father. Apparently, my father was well-known in the Chinese cemetery.

My father talked to the security guards, imparting wisdom and talking about the events surrounding the cemetery, such as the policies on rent or the lack of electricity and water. One of the guards had just come from a baptism and my father told him that it was difficult not having enough money yet having too many children to support. "Wala na ngang pera wala pang anak," (It's bad enough I don't have money that I should also be deprived of children) the guard said. My father replied with "Kung walang pera, walang anak" (If there's no money, then there's no children [because you can't support them]). At the end of the conversation, my father gave the guards money to split among themselves and went to his car to give them calendars. They were all grateful for my father's generosity and soon dispersed. When it came to the caretakers, my dad asked if he could pay their normal due the next time he arrived because he was now out of money. He gave them the last remaining bills from his wallet and showed them that he had nothing else to give.

We left afterwards, although I knew that we would be coming back next week on the New Year. For my father, Christmas has always been about family, whether it was fulfilling your duty, taking care of the future of your relatives, or paying respects to the dead.

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