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EXCLUSIVE: The Best Christmas Home Tours—Crickette Tantoco Revels In The Joy Of Bringing Families Together

Crickette Tantoco isn’t in one place for too long. Unlike others who hem and haw about moving from place to place with no permanence—they say that moving homes is almost as stressful as dealing with a loss of a loved one—Tantoco goes with the flow, and has seemingly mastered the art of moving from house to house. Into each home that her family has lived in, she brings her penchant for decorating.


The entryway of Crickette and Donnie Tantoco’s home is as welcoming as the hostess that resides
in it. Crickette’s taste in art mingles with priceless family photos, giving each guest much to take in.


“I don’t stay anywhere for too long,” she says, smiling. “Starting out, we were in different countries. We were in Hong Kong, and then back to Manila, then we went to Chicago, Minneapolis, then stayed in Subic to do Duty Free there. Then we moved from village to village, and then settled here. We’ve been in this house for two years, the other house for five years. Hopefully this will be the last, or one last move. Who knows? I like to fix houses, so I like it that each house looks different, and the feel of a new neighborhood.”

Their current house had been ready for the holidays ever since the Halloween decorations were put away. Impeccably decorated by her mother-in-law, Nena Vargas-Tantoco, it’s a tradition of the gracious hostess to do this every year for all her children’s homes. “If we’re here in the country, we celebrate Halloween, and then the next day, we put up the Christmas de´cor. It’s always been that way. It’s my mother-in-law’s gift to us,” Tantoco says. “Every house has a different  theme. She has a folder of what she did for you from the succeeding years, and she goes to her stockroom to see what she has—which is everything. She tries to match it to your personality. That’s a big thing taken off of my to-do list, and for that we’re really grateful.”


Crickette’s mother-in-law, Nena Tantoco, takes it upon herself to decorate each of her children’s homes—a gift that each household receives with open arms each year.


Crickette and Donnie’s Christmas theme for 2018 could be described as an “enchanted woodland forest,” playing with muted colors and ice blue. “We used to do a lot of reds, very colorful,” Tantoco adds. “But now, since we don’t have kids anymore, it’s a little bit muted. It’s very natural. And we have owls all over, because that was our mascot for our company for a while.”

The Tantoco clan who started Rustan’s more than six decades ago is a large one, and Tantoco says that holidays can get very busy for her family due to all the gatherings that happen with family and friends. “This year, I’ve finally kept track of all the gatherings, and was surprised to find that there are 15 Christmas parties to attend! That’s counting already Christmas Eve, where we always go to Donnie’s Lolo Benny, then Christmas Day with his mother’s side, Lola Memeng, but she just passed away. And then we see my side of the family. Actually, for the last couple of years, the other families have started their celebrations earlier just to fit everything in, or else we’ll all be so exhausted.”


Quaint dinner parties happen in the Tantoco household every so often, and the lady of the house says that no holiday party is complete without her mom’s turkey, and a really good leg of lamb from one of Donnie’s ‘titas.’ Christmas Day starts off quiet in their household, with the opening of presents, and come Christmas Day, they head out to be with the rest of their extended family.


Donnie is the designated dinner party planner of their family, planning big four dinners spread throughout the year. “He themes it and makes it di erent for each quarter—Valentine’s, summer, the rainy season, then Christmas. Our dinner is just us. Because you know, all my kids are grown, we’re all so busy, so it’s just a good time for us as a family to be grounded, to be together, and to focus on one another.” During parties, they make sure to have turkey made by Tantoco’s mom, and a good leg of lamb from one of Donnie’s titas. “I love Christmas—I love the drinking and the eating, the Christmas songs. I love buying toys for the kids—it’s toys that I want to play with! And of course, catching up with the family, because some you don’t usually get to see except during the holidays, so that’s fun too.”

Tantoco reminisces over her family’s own traditions, one that aren’t far from what every family residing in the country does every Christmas. “When we were younger, we were always required to have a Christmas program prepared for our grandparents,” Tantoco says. “It’s singing, dancing, the reenactment of the Nativity scene. After that we line up for money, up to a certain age, no more. Then Noche Buena, go to all the families to visit, then exchange gifts.”


Greens and other earthy tones give much warmth to the Tantoco home. Crickette describes it as an “enchanted woodland forest,” saying that compared to Christmases of previous years, their decor has grown up along with their children coming of age. They have exchanged the traditional reds and greens for a more muted palette, yet still with a festive flair.


Her family’s traditions aren’t far from what she and her family does. Come Christmas morning, Donnie, Tantoco, and their kids open their presents and have breakfast all together. “This year though, one of my daughters got married, so I guess she’ll be opening her presents in her husband’s house,” she says, smiling. “And for the rest of the days till before New Year, the extended family goes somewhere. This year we’re headed back to Hong Kong. We lived there for several years, and my in-laws like it, so every so often, we go back to Hong Kong.”

She welcomes the constant changes in her life, and loves going with what fortune brings to her doorstep. It’s a magnificent demeanor to take on especially when dealing with the stresses that the holiday season inevitably brings—to simply focus on each day as it comes, and to ground yourself in what matters most to you, which, for Tantoco, is celebrating the birth of Christ, and being with those she loves most.


Photographs by Jar Concengco for Metro Society