What OFWs miss about Filipino Christmas
Christmas is just around the corner, and this time brings a different kind of nostalgia for Filipinos who are based abroad, like myself. Being away from home for the past four Christmases in total, I would say, one can never be used to not celebrating the season Pinoy-style. In the Philippines, the holidays are a well-celebrated time, and Filipinos are always big on Christmas. It seems automatic for Filipinos to condition each other that the most awaited season of giving is at hand. Here are some reasons why:
- “-ber” months
Filipinos are overly conscious about the “-ber” months that start on September. You can hear almost everyone raving about how fast the months flew and it is already Christmas in September. Most shopping malls also start preparing for Christmas decorations in August to accommodate the September 1st welcome for the holidays. Local Christmas songs, such as those of Jose Mari Chan and old Filipino Christmas folk singers, are also played during these months.
- 100-day Christmas countdown
The mass media also helps in the Christmas feels by making a 100-day countdown to December 25. Primetime, evening and morning newscasts end with the anchors saying that there are only these few days left before Christmas. This, in a way, balances out the feed of sad and action-packed news stories.
- Season Sale
Almost every store is on sale during the –ber months. Some stores do it during the early season and sometimes during the whole month of December. Small and big bazaars also open nationwide during this season to accommodate deal-hunting Filipinos. But nothing seems to beat…
- Divisoria: The Christmas Hub
Divisoria is a place in Manila that is home to the most affordable, wholesale and retail gift items in the Philippines. Anyone can buy toys, clothes and other items you can think of here. Most Filipinos visit this place to buy bulk giveaways and presents.
- Christmas Caroling
Every night during December, children bring their makeshift instruments to sing Christmas carols to the neighbors for a few change. Kids sing many popular Christmas songs such as Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, Pasko na Naman (It’s Christmas Again) and Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer.
- Ninongs and Ninangs
Ninongs and Ninangs are Filipino terms that mean godfather and godmother, respectively. Godchildren mostly remember their godparents during Christmas season because of the gifts and Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo is the cash gift given by ninongs and ninangs to their godchildren, the term is derived from the name of the first Philippine president, Emilio Aguinaldo, whose face is in the 5-peso bill.
Families, elementary friends, high school classmates, college batch mates, and former workmates, reunite during Christmas season to celebrate the holidays. For families, a house is designated to accommodate the entire clan where there are games and gift-giving for the kids. For classmates and workmates, a simple gathering in restaurants and other places of interest such as karaoke are enough to celebrate.
Exchange gifts or Monito-Monita is a tradition usually done by friends or in the workplace. This activity makes giving more interesting because the receiving person does not know the gift-giver or the monito-monita.
- Noche Buena
The Noche Buena is held at 12:00 midnight to welcome the 25th of December. The Noche Buena is a dinner celebration that serves the usual Christmas food such as ham and keso de bola. Filipino families save up to have a good meal during the Noche Buena, as it is a small feast that most Catholics celebrate to welcome the birth of Christ. Later on, most Filipino households have celebrated this tradition.
- Simbang Gabi
Simbang Gabi is a nightly mass celebrated by many Catholics for nine nights before Christmas day, with belief that a wish may be granted if nine days are completed. It is also where famous rice delicacies are sold – bibingka, made of ground glutinous rice batter with red eggs and coconut openly baked with charcoal at its top and bottom; and puto-bumbong, cooked in bamboo shoots topped with margarine, sugar and coconut shavings. Stalls around the church sell these during those early hours.
Thinking about how Christmas is celebrated in the Philippines brings about longing to come back home during the holidays. Overseas Filipino workers miss and wish that they could partake on these moments. This does not mean, however, that we are not preparing for the Christmas season as much as our families are preparing in the Philippines.
As early as mid-year, most OFWs start buying their Balikbayan boxes to fill in with items that are to be cargo-shipped to the Philippines. This can include anything that is on sale, or anything that is unique in the country, or functional items that can be shared with the other relatives in the Philippines. These Balikbayan boxes are a joy to fill, imagining that it could bring joy and surprise to the person who will open it. It also gets friendly during the holidays because shipping services are able to lower their rates and provide discounts for packages that will need to reach the Philippines by Christmastime.
OFW friends who are going back during the holidays are also “contracted” to bring in gifts for loved ones. The “padala” or sending tradition that is prevalent among OFWs, are heightened during the Christmas season, as a non-formal way of sending goods to the Philipines. Some types of goods sent are clothes, electronic items, chocolates and other items that can be appreciated or needed by the sender’s family.
In a way, I was fortunate to be based in the United States, where the Christmas is also popular. The feel of the Christmas holidays starts after Thanksgiving, which is also the followed by the winter-breeze and snow. There are bigger and wider shopping malls here that offer dropdown sale on all merchandise – anyone cannot go out from these shopping malls without buying anything. Food for the holidays is also not a problem because one can find all sorts of hams and cheeses in nearby groceries. Life is easier when you look at it, but there is nothing that can quite simulate the actual holiday celebrations with family, friends and loved ones in the Philippines.
But Filipinos abroad, being generally resilient and content, will find ways to create their own cheerful celebrations with colleagues – discussing how their Balikbayan boxes reached their families and how thankful and happy their children and parents were with their padala. OFWs have a built-in conversion table that translates their working foreign currency to Philippine peso. So in the mind of an OFW, the value of a plane ticket to go home can be converted to additional savings that can be used to start-up a small business, livelihood or tricycle service in the future that can alleviate their way of life.
We may sacrifice a few happy Christmases and holidays away from family, but the joy of knowing that our children will finish school, or our parents’ health are consistently looked at, or that our family’s future is secured, are enough motivation to keep the faith. This makes OFW Christmases uniquely merry.
Happy Holidays to all!