Mar Roxas, the tito that he is, starts off an interview about Christmas and Christmas traditions with a rather bold, if not deal-breaking statement: “I hate [the Christmas season].”
He does not flinch nor laugh when he says this because, for all intents and purposes, it’s a fact. His wife, broadcaster Korina Sanchez lets out a laugh – a few feet away from us is a tree decorated with real tree branches, real spices and hand-made oversized Christmas balls (one of 6 Korina designed herself).
The former Cabinet-official-turned-travel-vlogger-turned-senatorial-aspirant softens his stand a bit and explains: he’s no Grinch. It’s not Christmas per se that he hates, but how commercial and ultimately, how shallow it can get.
That one half loves the rituals and pageantry that surround Christmas while the other half detests it may seem odd for a couple who's been married for close to a decade. It might sound odd but the more they talk, the more it makes sense.
While Korina relishes in the frenzy of the holidays and Mar likes the quiet moments best, the two value the same things: spending time with your loves ones, whether they have two feet or 4 paws.
Rappler catches up with the busy power couple to talk Christmas traditions, Christmas gifts, and how easy it is to fit 4 very sprightly puppers in one Christmas picture.
Christmas, the oxymoron
Mar: It’s the happiest time of the year (sings)... it's the most wonderful time of the year. I hate it.
Mar: I used to like Christmas. I love Christmas... don't get me wrong. But it's so pressure-filled that you have to be happy and joyous [but] actually you're pressured because you're ninong and you have many aguinaldos and you're, you know, so many days of Christmas and things like... 28 million Christmas cards that you have to...so it's really a... ironic? Oxymoronic... it's the happiest time of the year but it's also pressure-filled and it's also the kwentahan for all of your New Year's resolutions – and many of them, you really haven't acted on. And then the whole atmosphere of the house changes because all of the sudden, a tree goes up.
Korina: (laughs) It's red all over.
Mar: The tree's out and... it's work.
Rappler: That sounds like an allergy to the modern-day Christmas.
Mar: You know, I hate the commercialized Christmas. I love the Christmas na parang... the simple, no frills, essence of Christmas. You know what I mean?
Rappler: …just family, friends.
Mar: Yeah, family, friends... small gatherings where it's quiet, where you're having conversation, things like that. Caroling. Nobody carols anymore. Parang... but I hate the commercial part. The quote, unquote business part.
Korina: It's my favorite time of the year.
Rappler: How does that work?
Korina: I do 5 trees, I do the trees for my siblings... for everyone in my family. Mar is... it's like... we're all gonna die anyway in the end.
Mar: You know The Wacky Races? The cartoon.
Mar and Korina: "We'll never make it..."
Mar: It's like... we're all gonna die in the end.
Korina: ...so why bother? Why put up the tree 50 times? The thing about that is... he's just not saying it, but that's what he loves about me.
Mar: She introduces a whole new facet of life to my life.
Korina: You know when I met him, he didn't have trees in the house. I'm not sure what it was.
Mar: The only time I had trees was, what? She knew na kami na nga when she was allowed to put up a tree.
Korina: That's true ha.
Mar: It's already... it's no longer an invasion, it's already... welcome ka.
Korina: Plus more space in the closet.
Mar: ...but that's when we were married already. When we were not yet married, there was the tree. But you know, that now she is the official tree person because even my mom...
Korina: Oh yeaH, it's now 6, not 5. You know the big tree [in the Araneta Center]?
Mar: She's a consultant of the Araneta Center. She started out being the ABS-CBN correspondent that covers the tree lighting, so before you know it, know that we're married, she's part of the family, it's like... ikaw na bahala.
Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler
Christmas is about tradition, family
Korina: It's just how I grew up. It was a big thing for my mom. So you know like many Filipino families, it's really a time of abundance. You know, even if you can't really afford it? So the abundance is represented by the tree so everything has got to be in there. But Mar put his foot down and says, "I'm not going to have violet and orange" [just] red and green trees so this whole..
Mar: Because you know, it wasn't even Christmas anymore just artistry yung parang... fruits hanging on a tree?
Rappler: How do you design your trees?
Korina: How? It's like a sculpture. Everyone has his own aesthetic. In my case, a tree has to reflect part of yourself. A tree has to have something organic in it, there are branches tucked into the tree, I have real cyprus branches that I get from Dangwa. There are pine cones, cinnamon sticks... something organic in it.
Rappler: How long do you prepare?
Mar: Like June.
Korina: (Laughing) Very fast. I don't really change. I just add a little, take out a little.
Mar: All of these decorations, they all go into their own little boxes.
Korina: This year, because we're into mountain climbing, I put Santa as climbing the peak of the tree. It's not so serious.
Rappler: Red and green lang talaga?
Mar: I like the traditional, the conventional... when it's super modern... what's that? I like the fact that there's the smell of the pine tree, the pines. A traditional Christmas is actually very simple for us. We grew up, we'd sit around, we'd tell each other why we're thankful. We'd just talk – very quiet, very private... so I enjoyed that, when it was just that. So the closer to the 24th that it gets, the lesser the hubbub of the commercial side. And the more that I start enjoying it.
Rappler: What’s a typical Christmas in your household?
Mar: Typically, lately, we go away. So that it's really just us....This one I really enjoy: One Christmas, many, many years ago, we found ourselves in New York. It was snowy, we were walking the streets because we were jet-lagged. And then there was this guy setting up his freshly-cut pine trees of various sizes on the side. Di ba? Kahit simple lang. You have a tree, one string of lights, a few balls. Yun ang Pasko. You're doing it together. It's just the two of you and so, at midnight... you're just watching TV and then... what's the name of that movie?
Korina: It's A Wonderful Life.
Mar: So it's nice. I really enjoyed that. Because it's really basic.
Korina, on being hostess with the mostest
Korina: I used to. Not anymore. I like attending now because I don't have to prepare anything. Well it can be like an obligation so since it's an obligation anyway, might as well enjoy it. Just be happy where I am. I think I was asked a question lately: what's the non-material thing that you intend to give to your loved ones? So that got me thinking: what is that really? So that should be the basis of the non-commercial Christmas Mar is talking about. I think time is one of the most precious gifts you can give to anyone. I guess making time to attend that Christmas party, he's actually being very generous, he just doesn't know it. Even I, when I attend parties, I just make sure it's quality time, even if it's just 5 minutes, because I know they appreciate it and you can also grow from 5 minutes. It's really time listening to your nephew, your mom.
Mar: 'Yung walang... Instagram, Facebook, anything. You're just sitting around, enjoying each other's company. At some point, towards Christmas, everyone's with their family na. So who are you Instagraming?
Rappler: How do you find time considering you have a lot of things going on – given Korina's shows and businesses and the coming 2019 elections?
Mar: This would be the first Christmas [of that kind] since 2016. Prior to that there was none of that pressure and oftentimes, middle of December we're not here. So now we just... do what you have to do for your colleagues and then at some point, at this point it's the cut-off time when it's just for us na lang.
Rappler: Is that important?
Mar: Because it never ends. You have to decide sometime in November, October na okay, do you filming, your whatever... but what's a good date for you. Because there's always something but at some point, you have to say that it's now family time.
The quiet Christmas moments
Korina: Well of course the 24th, you're always together. I think that's a must. There was a time when we'd always spend it away – the two of us together. But now that the elders are older and time is even more precious now than before. We try to spend as much time as we can with the elders. Well in my case, my family, all the elders have gone so I think it's all right that I'm not with my family. Sometimes my family joins his family. Ganoon lang ka-simple yun, just spend time.
Christmas and the 4 doggos
Rappler: How do you keep the decorations intact, especially since there are 4 dogs running around?
Mar: They're house-trained. They don't pee inside.
Korina: They respect the effort, I think. I had to climb a ladder, and they were looking at that. You have to know where to put each thing for the balance.
Mar: That's not outsourced na tadah, let's have a tree. I mean, she goes through two or three nights of you know, I come home and she's there...
Rappler: Buwis buhay rin...
Korina: Oo, nakatayo ka doon, nakahawak 'yung boy dito habang inaabot mo. I made the balls myself. I buy styropore, I buy the fabric. There's even origami there cause I have a nephew who's a whiz at origami.
And the best gift is…
Mar: It's hard to say because childhood, I remember Tinker Toys. These were wooden, these were pre-Lego. So Tinker Toy was before that. Or yung trumpo. So depending on the age, I guess, may mga highlights.
Korina: When I was young, I still believed in Santa and I recieved a slide, a real slide. I think that was one of the best because those were the days I still believed in Santa. Today, fast forward, I think I'm just glad to be alive, healthy.
Mar: Yeah because it's like you survived Christmas. Because that happens on the 24th. You can only eat so much. You reach that quiet moment in the evening na it's not anymore 'Oh, what's the dessert?' Parang, it's quiet na. You're just sitting there, holding hands, surrounded by family. That's the wonderful kind of feeling. There's no gift.
Rappler: Do you still buy each other gifts?
Korina: It was never a thing. He's very anti-materialism. You know, this is his dictum: his principle is, it should be Christmas all the time. He doesn't like those kind of boundaries, requirements...
Mar: You know, like this shirt? This is an old shirt that I had... I don't like consuming things. Even in my family... Korina, in their family, it's the full Christmas effect. In my family, after we became adults, no more children, di ba? Then adult to adult, parang no more. Because in the middle of the year, let's say you see something that's nice for your sister... O, I saw this belt. Or she will say something na, ah, you're traveling... can you get me perfume or whatever.
Rappler: You're not into grand gestures.
Mar: No more. In my family, being together, spending time together... that's Christmas. Korina, in her first Christmas with my family... she gave a gift to everyone.
Korina: He warned me!
Mar: And so the first Christmas, she had a gift like that. I told her, don't. Cause that's going to make people feel awkward. We're together, we don't need to show people na...
Korina: I have to take exception. Margarita, she sends everybody gifts.
Mar: ...and Bledes. My cousins. I stopped giving gifts one Christmas, decades ago... I remember I bought... Shangri-La was just new. So I was traveling once, stayed in a Shangri-La and I remembered the Shangri-La bathrobes. So I bought 20, 25 bathrobes from the hotel. Na parang... what are you gonna get there? So I said, ok everybody, you can now have a bathrobe. It became... I just have to have a package. This was 20, 30 years ago and at that point: ano na tayo ha, klaro... no gifts. So it's time, it's attention [that matters].