Christmas Eve in the Philippines was a bright, sun-drenched day. The evidence that it was Christmas boomed from the jeepney radios as we made our way along the crowded streets to the barrio where our investigators, the Juguilons, lived.
They were not only our investigators; they were our friends. We were going to share Christmas Eve with them. They didn’t have much, but they wanted to share what they did have. We found that the Filipinos were very generous: you could never give them something without them wanting to give you much more. As missionaries in the Philippines we were always receiving from the kindly people we served. The Juguilons were such a family. Their home was modest, but it was filled with love, love they were always willing to give away.
Their home was one of the smallest in the barrio; its one room was clean and tidy. All of the family’s belongings were tied in neat little bundles which hugged the walls. When we came to teach the gospel we sat on the floor with the family.
Our meetings with the family were wonderful and productive. Brother and Sister Juguilon worked hard to understand all that we were telling them. They read the Book of Mormon we gave them. They had to read from our Bible because they could not afford to buy their own. They were diligent; they listened and studied and prayed so they could become a part of the Lord’s true church.
When we arrived on Christmas Eve, the room was almost filled by two borrowed, king-sized wooden chairs. We were invited to sit while our friends sat at our feet.
Sitting in the middle of the circle of children was a scraggly little Christmas tree which had been delivered anonymously to the Juguilon home that evening. Underneath it was a gift for each of the children. With beaming faces our friends shared their joy with us. The small, green symbol of Christmas was, to this family, the world’s most beautiful. It boasted of widely spaced branches draped with candy-filled ornaments and a popcorn garland which hung lazily from its limbs.
Six pairs of children’s eyes focused lovingly on the tiny tree. A small hand lifted to touch a branch, as if to confirm its reality. Another softly coaxed a hanging ornament into gentle movement. We all enjoyed watching the children until the Christmas festivity began. This festivity was a quiet, yet joyful one.
With grateful reverence, Sister Juguilon placed a white box in front of her. Each of us waited in anticipation as she knelt and carefully began to unfold the sides of the box. Even the Christmas tree could not hold the children’s attention now. Inside were swirls of snow-white frosting that blanketed the enticing Christmas feast—it was a cake, a beautiful, store-bought cake. For the Juguilon family this was a most unusual and rare treat.
All eyes were turned upon us as we received the first pieces. No one else ate, just us. We were their guests; they waited to eat until they were certain that we desired no more. Their joy came in giving.
Together we celebrated the birth of our Savior. We left filled with the joy they shared. However, their story continued in our absence on Christmas Day.
Mealtime on that Christmas Day was attended by Brother Juguilon, but not partaken of. Finally Sister Juguilon asked her husband why he would not eat that day. He quietly answered that this day was, for him, a day of fasting, and a day of thanksgiving. Knowing that it was Christmas she agreed that it was a day for thanksgiving. “But fasting?” she asked.
Quietly he answered. “This year was different. This year each of our children received a gift for Christmas.” This, to him, was cause to return thanks to God.