This is where I spent my Christmas
In a bahay kubo in Laguna in the Philippines.
My erstwhile husband* usually lives in Manila, but he recently built a bahay kubo (a house - usually modest - of local materials) outside the town of Magdalena, about 100k south of Manila in the province of Laguna. He was very keen to have us spend Christmas in his bahay kubo and because he asks very little of the rest of the family we were willing to oblige (though the half of the family who are city addicts were quietly a bit reluctant).
He has built his house on land that belongs to an old friend, on a hill that used to be a coconut plantation, overlooking richly vegetated rice farms, with a view in the distance of Mount Banahaw, a volcano renowned for its religious and spiritual significance.
The coconut plantation was abandoned some time ago, and the owner of the land has planted local mahogany. It's also the kind of tropical environment where everything grows rapidly and even a few years without cultivation results in a jungle-like landscape.
Magdalena is breathtakingly beautiful and heart-breakingly poor. There is a squatter settlement at the foot of the hill where R has built his bahay kubo. In a way that is typical of the Philippines, the owner of the land allows the squatters to live on his land in return for their acting as caretakers of the property - they safeguard it against other squatters and ensure the holiday houses are maintained.
My erstwhile husband employs A, one of the young men from the squatter settlement as caretaker and housekeeper and is teaching him to cook. A's father was killed in a fight when he was 7, and he only finished school to grade 4, so such employment is seen as immense good fortune and enables him to help keep younger family members in school. While we were there, we also employed another young man, RR, to help entertain the dotee, my grand-daughter. Small children are welcomed and seen as a source of endless entertainment in the Philippines so needless to say, she had a wonderful time. Unlike A, at 17 RR is still in school in his final year. Like so many Filipinos, his father works on contract as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia and remits money to his family. Remittances from overseas workers are the life-blood of the Filipino economy and the only way in which many people see a chance of freeing their family from deep poverty. But it is simultaneously damaging the social fabric of the community, as so many young people are growing up without the presence of parents, and so many skilled people are absent from the everyday decision-making and shaping of communities.
For three days we had six adults, one small child, two helpers, three languages, two active dogs and a bossy cat in a small two-roomed bahay kubo. It rained continuously, and my son was ill. Amazingly, in my view, we survived Christmas with relatively good cheer and undamaged relationships. Admittedly, three of us slept in another house on the property, which somewhat relieved the space pressures.
By the way, the Jane Austen Christmas dress fitted perfectly, as the rather sweaty photo of the dotee shows:
* I am still searching for an un-self-conscious, easy label for the person to whom I'm still legally married, but from whom I've been separated for many years. Any ideas?