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.

Christmas Memories

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

I belong to a religious group where Thanksgiving is celebrated instead of Christmas. For 31 years of my life, I used to celebrate Christmas with my family and childhood friends. I celebrated Christmas even if it’s just for socialization’s sake. What is so magical about Christmas? Isn’t it that the early pagans are the ones who first celebrated this supposedly holy occasion?

Ah, let me regress through the times that I celebrated Christmas with my family and friends.

The year was mid-80’s. I was in 3rd grade when I received a total of 700 pesos as Christmas gift. It was a big amount at that time. I was able to buy a new pair of Mighty Kid shoes because of that. It’s good to have generous relatives during Christmas. =)

When financial crisis hit our family in the late 80’s, I saw my mother’s worried face three weeks before Christmas. I overheard her talking with my father.

“Magpapasko na wala pang damit ang mga bata,” she said. (It’s about Christmas, the kids don’t have new clothes yet)

It was our hardest and poorest Christmas. Thank God, my father was able to get a commission a week before Christmas.

Early 90’s, when money flowed in like flashflood, was the first time that my brother and I got our first signature clothes and shoes. It was also the time when I realized that having signature items would not make me a bigger person especially if the people around me are not aware of what’s original or what’s fake. (Like hello, everyone can have fake LV’s but only a few can tell which is fake and which is not fake!)

My relatives from my mom’s side love to eat. We get together every Christmas and we just eat and eat and eat! Oh, I almost forgot that our family had Noche Buena.

My saddest Christmas was sometime in late 90’s when I pleaded hard to my daughter’s father to please stay with us and don’t go home yet to his parents in the province. It was so sad a Christmas that until now that I no longer celebrate it, I still feel that pain whenever I remember that day.

There was a time when an ex-lover and a current lover would race to give me a call at 12:00 AM or Noche Buena. I should be happy to have two men “fighting” over my attention and affection but the joy was superficial. Who wants to deal with an ex who could not move on and a current who competes with my ex?

Of course, pre and post-Christmas parties with my friends were one of the most memorable. My childhood friends are like my brothers and sisters; I can be my true self when I’m with them.

Christmas or should I say, December 25 would never be the same without my mother who passed away last May 2009. Generally, our home at the province will never be the same without her around. If there is one wish that God would give me, I would ask Him to tell my mother that her kare-kare is still the best. That her crema de fruta is what I can’t replicate. That her hundreds of godchildren appreciate her small tokens. That she doesn’t need to bother giving me Christmas presents. That she is still the BEST mother in the world.

*now I am crying*