A Break from Tradition

(published 04 January 2015, MST)

Traditions are called such because they have persisted over time. For example, on New Year’s Eve, many Filipinos follow the tradition of having round fruits and a number of holiday dishes on the table, and greeting the coming year with noise and revelry. Tradition is how things have always been done, and for good reason. Indeed, one would have to have a compelling reason to break from it.
The desire to make new and better memories this year proved compelling enough for me. As early as the beginning of 2014, I had planned on taking the kids out to spend the New Year holidays somewhere else, away from our noisy, firecracker-happy neighborhood in Valenzuela. Don’t get me wrong—the scenario has always evoked happy memories of my childhood, when my uncle would play street DJ and my Lola would clang pots and pans to usher in the new year.  Over time, however, I felt like I was drowning in all that revelry without knowing why there was always too much noise, too much food, and too much clutter.
It had to change.
As early as October, I searched online for good deals and booked a suite at a serviced apartment in Makati for December 31 to January 2. I was not looking for a hotel—I wanted someplace like home—a living room with a couch and a table to hang around in, a kitchen to make meals (I did not intend to buy cooked food all the time), a bedroom big enough to accommodate me and the Fab Four, a bathroom with a nice shower. And lots of closet space.
And so on New Year’s Eve, the kids and I packed our bags and told our townhouse: “See you next year!” Arriving at the place, we almost squealed when we were informed that our room was at the 36th floor - imagine watching the fireworks from that vantage point, without the danger, the noise and the pollution.
First meal out was a deli restaurant across the street, and from where we also bought sliced ham and sausages for later consumption. After checking in, Sophie and I went to the mall for some pizza and to the grocery: bread, lettuce, butter, pasta, olive oil, garlic, dishwashing paste. Nothing would go to waste because I could take all these home anyway. I could not get over the thought of living just a few minutes away from Glorietta. 
While we were away, the boys plunked down on the couch to play their games (their respective musical instruments were too bulky to bring); their Ate Bea got started on the book she had been meaning to read. When we arrived “home,” it was late afternoon and Elmo was playing some soothing Bach through the dock that they had found at the unit.
I sat down to do some work online for the paper—newspapers are not known to observe holidays, after all—while the kids explored the pool and the gym downstairs. I was alone working and I noticed the setting sun peeking in between the buildings, and over Manila Bay beyond, and I rose to take a photo of 2014’s last sunset on my phone. I went back to work, overwhelmed with peace and a sense of gratitude for all that surrounded me at that moment.
Soon, it was time to cook dinner, and hang out in the living room to watch the fireworks from all directions. Somehow we stayed that way until well after midnight: munching away, drinking, talking, laughing, taking pictures (a lot, and crazy ones too), listening to music—while still gawking at the view.
A quiet passage into 2015 it was. I had wanted to sit down and write, reflecting on the year that was and planning the new one. But I also wanted to tidy up the place. I was happy there was no excessive eating, no overzealous buying of fruits that would rot anyway when not eaten. Putting things in order, it was just like how it was at home - everybody had a role, making the chore seem lighter.
New Year’s Day was rainy. We did not step out for our lunch out until 2 in the afternoon. The girls stayed behind at the mall for a while and I went “home” with the boys and a box of donuts. I made coffee, ate the donuts, and went to work again. The thought of my other deadlines in other engagements crept into my system, but I told them: “Not today, dearies. I would get back on working mode this weekend.”
The boys and Sophie went down for a swim, and I followed when MST work was done. I walked on the treadmill for 20 minutes and then took more pictures of the kids frolicking in the water. We had the pool to ourselves. Again, I was overwhelmed. The instant noodles and the sausage-on-baguette that we had for dinner afterwards tasted like meal for royalty.
Bea and Elmo were exhausted from the activities of the day and fell asleep early, but Josh and Sophie, a little after midnight, craved some cheeseburgers and went down to a nearby 24/7 fastfood chain. We then watched some crime drama on TV before finally turning in at 4am.
The sun was up too soon, and we would be checking out in a few hours. Bea’s photographer-friend Elaine had arrived for our annual portrait (the studio we were supposed to go to last week, as I had written here, had closed). We dolled ourselves up, took pictures, fixed our things and checked out, feeling like the past three days had gone by too fast, and that we wanted more. 
We missed our home, of course, but the serviced apartment also felt like home. And then I remembered, home is not a place per se; it is being with the people you love, anytime, anywhere, no frills, no pressure.
We may have broken tradition this year, but we sure kept one—togetherness. We spent the holidays at a different place, in a slightly different way. And since it was quiet, we had the opportunity to reflect and be thankful for all we have and are. But the warm, fuzzy feeling is the same. It’s enough to power us for another active, ambitious, challenging year ahead.