Mommy Talks

Pinoy Christmas around the world

(Today’s column)

I am so tired of writing what I think about Christmas and all the excesses that go with it. I am just as tired of ranting about relatives, friends and acquaintances who turn Christmas into a season for extortion by specifying what their children want as gifts. So I have something different for you readers this Christmas Day—snippets of how Filipinos celebrate Christmas in different parts of the world.

casaveneracion.com Christmas lantern

My brother-in-law, Sonny, has been living in the Chicago area since 1985 with his Filipino wife, Bing. Their two sons were born in the US and husband and wife acquired American citizenship more than a decade ago. He says: Yes, we are very active with our Filipino church community in Park Ridge. Every year for the last 12 years we celebrate “simbang gabi” in our church and a big potluck feast open to the public follows. The crowd gets bigger and bigger every year (although this year we noticed a drop in attendees due to the fact that we had below zero temperature on that day). The only difference is that “simbang gabi” is mass at 5 and not actually “midnight”. We also celebrate through traditional foods such as “Chinese ham” and puto bungbong and bibingka. All eaten at Noche Buena. All the Filipinos (and some locals) wear “barong tagalog” during the festivities despite the frigid temperatures. And, this year, we hung a “parol” in our house and it’s something we intend to do every year from now on.

(Note: Sonny and his family were in the Philippines for a vacation last August and they went all the way to Quiapo to buy a dozen pieces of capiz parol for their house and for those of their relatives and friends. I suppose parts of the Chicago suburbs are alight with Filipino style capiz parol this year.)

Auee is a migrant worker who lives in London with her Filipino husband and young son, Kelvin. She says: We “try” to go mass, if not Christmas Eve, then Christmas Day. Every year, we do Noche Buena. I set up the table, we wake our son, we get dressed and we wait for midnight, then have a feast. After eating, we let Kelvin open his gifts. We go to bed, sleep late, wake up and eat leftovers. It’s also become a tradition (or a sport) to exercise our thumbs when attempting to get a connection to Pinas, calling numerous relatives and saying “Merry Christmas”. The traditional question is always “ano handa nyo?” This year we’re breaking that “tradition” though—we’re flying to Dubai and spending the holidays with my sisters. YEHEY!

Dexie Wharton grew up in the US, married a Marine and they have two beautiful children. She wrote in her Web log: Christmas food is all planned out. We’re having brunch with the brother-in-law and his family. I’m hosting it again this year. Scott and I decided to have Irish food this year. Yup, brisket with potatos, cabbage and carrots, plus the soda bread. With apple pie for our American dessert tradition, AND, I am also making the Filipino fruit salad. I’m so excited for the latter because I haven’t had it in a while. This fruit salad is not your watermelon, grapes, or apples kind of salad. It’s sweet with fruit cocktail, Filipino coconut jelly and other stuff.

Noel Cabacungan is a migrant worker stationed in the Middle East China. His wife and young daughter were recently granted resident status and they will be celebrating Christmas together as a family. He relays: If last year I celebrated it alone while just chatting with my wife and daughter in the Philippines, this year they are with me so the celebration will be a little more grand. Although we are still undecided about what we will prepare for our Noche Buena (except for the omni-present kastañas and fruits), we already had setup our 3-feet Christmas tree. And even if our 23-month old daughter can’t write her letter for Santa yet, the “Red Man” will visit us on Christmas Eve.

(Insert: I also asked BlogusVox and Geri to share their Christmas thoughts but, unfortunately, the responses were sent after my deadline. I am reproducing them here nevertheless with my thanks.

From BlogusVox: We try if we can but there are factors that deny us to celebrate it the way we do in the Philippines. The restriction impose by the host country on religious practice gives us no choice but to do it covertly. For example, in public places, we greet “kabayans” only with a warm smile or if a friend, we utter “Merry Christmas” in whisper. We don’t adorn our homes with Christmas decorations because those accessories are not available here. I’m one of the lucky few to have a small Christmas tree in our living room. Christmas party is done ahead (1 week before Christmas) because religious police are active during the 24th and the 25th of December. Sometimes raiding suspected venues and taking everybody they catch to jail. During Christmas Eve, most OFWs with families celebrate it privately at home na lang among themselves. Anyway that’s what Christmas is all about naman. To our “kabayans” back home these may sound horrible but we learned to live with it. Besides it’s their country and we should respect and abide with their laws.

From Geri: Hi Connie, I find that it will only be an exercise in futility and would only make me homesick for the holidays. To find things that makes a filipino Christmas in a different country borders on impossible when Simbang Gabis are held in the afternoons, Christmas songs are more melancholic than jolly, the streets are empty on Christmas Eve midnight because of below freezing temp, preparing Noche Buena for one person (myself) is unappealing because you only have a husband (who is diet conscious), a toddler (who you would rather not rouse from sleep), friends and family who live 48 kilometers from you (and from each other) even if they’re in the same city. I have since learned that the best way to cope with the Christmas blues is to embrace the traditions of my new home country, this way I get to enjoy the season more.

Even if I don’t make the deadline I would be curious and interested to read your article :) Now off I go outside with my toddler to fight the snow.)

You only have to surf the net to read about so many of the stories of Filipinos and how they celebrate Christmas in their adopted countries. But wherever we are, may we always be reminded that it is possible to have fun and be merry without being irresponsible. Those beautifully wrapped gifts may look pretty and tearing the wrappers add to the excitement but do we really have to throw them away? The EcoWaste Coalition has some tips on minimizing garbage.

1. For wrappers: Neatly fold and recycle for the next gift-giving or use as cover for books or as packing material.

2. For bows and ribbons: Keep them in a shoe box and use for other special occasions or reuse for arts and crafts projects, doll hair or stuffed toy makeovers or to add a creative touch on candleholders and vases.

3. For boxes: Stock them up or reuse to store bows and ribbons, greeting cards, photos, arts and sewing supplies, pens and pencils, small toys and household odds and ends.

4. For greeting cards: Turn them into ornaments for Christmas trees and garlands or reuse as bookmarks or as decorative add-ons in scrapbooks.

5. For paper and plastic bags: Save them for future use such as for carrying or storing stuff.

Happy holidays to all!

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