Introducing my much, much younger Christmas self and how Filipinos celebrate the joy of Christmas!
To recount the good ol’ days of my childhood is to recall how many Christmas days have passed. I remember my childhood days in Christmases. That one Christmas when I was brought to the hospital and learned I was scared of injections, that one Christmas when I performed a Backstreet Boys’ dance number with my cousin in front of my relatives (gasp!), that one Christmas when I got my Polaroid Spice Girls camera…Those Christmas moments when I felt that everything was right in the world, that the best gifts don’t go under the tree, that Christmas lights give off an extraordinary warm and fuzzy feeling, that holidays can be both cruel and wonderful at the same time, and that catching chimney-raiding Santa Claus is as easy as opening my parents’ wardrobes and looking into its farthest reaches.
No matter how many years have passed, I have these memories of the 21 Christmas days I’ve spent so far. They are all different – some celebrations have been grand, some were small, but all have been more or less memorable, probably because every single time, I spend Christmas with the people I have grown up with and loved all my life.
That’s how Christmases are here in the Philippines. We are big on family, relatives, food (OH CHRISTMAS FOOD you are heaven sent!), parties, shopping, caroling, and tradition. The holiday air buzzes with all that. We are a culture that looks forward to Christmas. Aside from our very Catholic roots, we just really love the Christmas holidays. I read somewhere once that we are known for having the world’s longest Christmas season. Christmas carols start playing in shopping malls as early as September and we usually end the season with the Feast of the Three Kings, which falls on the first week of January. Most Christmas decorations don’t go down until then.
Because we just love Christmas, we have a lot of activities during the holiday season. Schools and offices have Christmas parties with games, performances, and exchanging of gifts weeks and days before Christmas day itself. And Christmas caroling, yes! Filipinos just love to sing.
Nine days before Christmas, a lot of Filipinos attend daily novena masses known as the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi to anticipate the commemoration of Jesus’ birth. It is said that a person’s wish will be granted by completing attendance of the 9-days mass. I tried that the first time I completed it and I really got my wish. It was a difficult one, so I really consider it a miracle!
Outside the church are Filipino holiday delicacies such as Bibingka (rice/egg cake cooked with coal) or Puto Bumbong (buttered sticky rice sprinkled with brown sugar and coconut).
On Christmas Eve, my family usually attends a midnight mass and have the ultimate Filipino Christmas tradition after – the Noche Buena feast. Usually, extended families celebrate together. Brothers and sisters who have their own family flock over to a family member’s place to celebrate the occasion. Our family, and most families, prepare food and gather around midnight to eat together (after I open my presents! ;p). It really is a wonderful celebration. Filipino family tables on Noche Buena usually have Queso de Bola, spaghetti, fruit salad, and Christmas ham. I suggest that you try experiencing Christmas with a Filipino family. There’s nothing like it!
After Christmas Day, but still during Christmas season, most families have “reunions” where the whole clan is invited. Relatives from the opposite ends of the family tree come together to rekindle ties. Introductions are made, cousins get to know each other, games are played, food is served…very family-oriented, very Filipino!
I like what Will from Glee said in one of their Christmas episodes —
“The first Christmas you remember having is the greatest day of your life. Your family’s all together. There are loads of presents, cookies, the magic is alive and well… but before you know it, you grow up. Work and school and girlfriends take over and Christmas becomes more of an obligation. A reminder of what’s lost instead of what’s possible… and all the trees and the presents and even the mistletoe can’t change that. And then when you get to my age you’re so desperate to get that magic back you’d do anything to be able to feel how you did that first Christmas.”
You have your most memorable Christmases as a kid. The spirit of Christmas is just so alive then. Your parents make it a point that you feel that…and I guess that’s why it sticks with you as you grow up. But let’s not be Scrooges. Christmas only comes once a year so when it comes, let’s spread the Christmas cheer! After all, only nice kids get gifts from Santa! ;)