Christmas in the Philippines

My client of three months asked me this morning about my holiday plans. I asked him back if it’s okay not to report to work tonight (December 24th) and tomorrow night (December 25th) because I intend to be absent on December 31st and January 1st. After 12 hours, he replied that it’s okay for me to take my holidays during the said dates.

Since I started my freelancing journey in September, I became exposed to a whole new world of online employment opportunities and that includes learning new culture and tradition that I need to know, too to adapt. I am aware that in the US, Christmas is not as celebrated as how we do it here in the Philippines. Surprisingly, my client seemed to be aware of our tradition which was why he brought up the topic.

They say that it is only in the Philippines where Christmas starts during the “ber-months.” As early as September, houses, and establishments put on their Christmas decors to induce that magical feeling of the Yuletide season. By now, everyone knows that Christmas is not complete without hearing the songs of Jose Mari Chan with “Christmas in Our Hearts” as his most notable composition. Some people take advantage of the mid-year sale to maximize their gift-giving. Certainly, this trend would change more in the coming years because of the online shopping promos of Lazada and Shopee (hello, 10-10, 11-11, and 12-12 sale!)

Christmas countdown is such a big deal in the Philippines and most of us sacrifice our sleep schedule for Noche Buena. Noche Buena is a mid-night dinner where the stars of the table are the lechong baboy (roasted pig), hamonado (ham), quezo de bola (cheese), and fruit salad. To those who cannot afford any of these, pancit and a loaf of bread will do because the important thing is the presence of the beloved members of the family for the Noche Buena. After eating, gift-giving follows. When I was still living with my parents and siblings, we put the gifts under the Christmas tree and do the exchanging after the Noche Buena. You guess it right that when we were younger, I and my siblings thought that those gifts came from Santa Claus!
In our family, we needed to sleep before 3 AM to have enough energy for the day’s events. As early as 7 AM, my parents’ inaanak (godchildren) would knock on our door for their pamasko (Christmas present). When I say inaanak, I mean the presence of 50 children and above depending on their karay-karay (companion). My mother patiently entertained each one of them while I kept myself busy inside the room as those days were my super shy days.

Lunchtime meant going to my grandmother’s house for a family reunion. Well, in our case, we used to see our relatives every weekend so it was not a reunion in the real essence of the word. But yes, some families who live apart look forward to Christmas for their family reunion. This tradition affects so many Filipino families now because of the pandemic. In my case, my hometown imposed a 14-day quarantine period should we decide to visit my relatives there. From my end, it’s not practical to have that long quarantine period if the visit will only be done in 1 or two days. This means that I would have more time spending on the quarantine than the actual visit and also. As they say, now is the perfect time to take advantage of technology like video conferencing through FB messenger, Meet, Skype, and Zoom.

Christmas would be much different now for most families but the most important thing is regular communication even when there is no occasion. To those who celebrate Christmas, be creative and positive that this too shall pass. And to those who do not celebrate like the adult me, now is our time to relax, do our pending tasks, bond with family, and recharge for the New Year celebration.

Timilai Kasto Cha?


“Timilai kasto cha?”

That was the first phrase that I learned from a Nepali classmate in college. There were a number of foreign students from the university that I attended and among them, I became friends with the Nepali because I felt more connection with them. They have this kind of “no mean bone in their body” attitude. They were generous and hospitable as well.

One of them was my neighbor in Sanitary Camp. He was good in class and did not hesitate to offer tutoring me for some lessons that I did not understand.

“Okay, Iris, this is how you graph it. Use different colors of pen for each coordinates” he would say. Those were the days of manual graphing when using Microsoft Excel was not yet the norm.

He was older than me by three years and acted as my “kuya” everytime I had love problems with my college sweetheart.

“Don’t take love seriously yet,” he would say.

The other Nepali that was close to me was equally generous and hospitable. We became close during the thesis-making days and we would storm at his apartment to do that.

There was a time when he and his friends cooked “momo” for us. There was a beer-drinking session after. I was never a fan of beer so I headed to one of the rooms to continue doing the thesis. His dog named Arki was there in the room with us. Arki was used to seeing us at the apartment.

The third Nepali was also a neighbor and a classmate who was generous enough to welcome me and a female classmate at his apartment to do some projects. The friendship did not went deeper because he was from another engineering course and we did not have sufficient time to bond after the semester that we were classmates.

My mother, who at that time, had never seen a Nepali before asked me how they look like. I said, Nepalis are beautiful with round eyes but some have Chinese eyes but their greatest character is their friendliness.