Christmas in the Philippines: What Christmas Means to Me

As early as September, Filipinos from all over the world begin to put up their Christmas lights and decorate their trees. Beloved Christmas carols echo far and wide, from the buzzy streets of Metro Manila to the smallest rural communities. Outside, multicolored Parols with vibrant kaleidoscopic designs twinkle merrily as a Belen display sits on every house commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. Growing up, I remember the dazzling lights illuminating the streets and even more so, the bright smiles that would greet you along the way as to say, “Maligayang Pasko (Merry Christmas)!”

A lot of people often wonder why it is that Filipinos have so many customs around this time of year. To some, it may even be perceived as unnecessary or frivolous. Why is it that Filipinos get up as early as 4am or as late as 9pm to go to Mass for nine days straight? Why is it that Filipinos wait until midnight on Christmas Eve to eat dinner ? So why does Parol-making, the Belen, and the anticipation of eating iconic Filipino Christmas dishes like hot steaming bibingka or freshly cooked puto-bumbong mean so much to our families?

The simplest way I can explain our traditions and beliefs are their  deep roots  in our culture. When I moved to America 10 years ago, there was something huge that I left behind and took for granted— time with my family. The Filipino culture, my culture, revolves around family-centric ideologies and that’s why it comes to no surprise that family comes first.

My family taught me a valuable lesson growing up, that nothing can replace the love shared during Christmas time. What makes holidays in the Philippines special isn’t the parties or the food, it’s the happiness that shines brighter than any star in the night. Where rich and poor intersect, where no amount of food or presents can buy love, and where true happiness costs nothing.

What I mean to say is that our Christmas traditions are centered around family, around meaningful relationships and interactions. Not to say that family is defined by blood relations, family is whatever family means to you. These practices are only strengthened by what we receive from spending quality time with those who matter most to us.

Take a look at the recent ad Disney UK released featuring the Filipino Christmas tradition of Parol-making. The story centers around a granddaughter and her Lola (grandmother). Like other Filipino Americans, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, and I personally needed a ton of tissues to get through the video. With most of my family still residing in Manila, I felt (and feel) homesick.

Now that I live 8,000 miles away, I try to recreate the Filipino experience as much as I can by practicing our customs as I would back home. I go to Simbang Gabi at my local church, prepare the Noche Buena feast on Christmas Eve, and share my love for Christmas with family and friends. My family, for example, organizes potlucks and exchanges secret Santa gifts amounting to only one dollar (thank you, Dollar Tree).

Like many other countries, the Philippines is reeling from one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia whilst also suffering from multiple calamitous typhoons. The recent Typhoon Vamco devastated the country, causing numerous deaths and destruction. In fact, the typhoon was the fifth major storm to hit the Philippines since October, and it is considered to be the strongest in 2020 as of yet. With lockdown restrictions, devastating floods, and the economic downturn that left millions out of work, Filipinos continue to prove their resiliency. As Sato Laxa, a vendor from Manila simply puts it, “Problems do not stop Filipinos from celebrating Christmas, be it pandemic or typhoons, we manage to recover.”

To our dearest readers, I hope that besides giving you an insight into my culture, this also serves as an inspiration for you during the holiday season. Despite the hardships that 2020 has presented us with, we remember what Christmas is all about— how it doesn’t lie in what’s under the tree or at the dinner table, but in our ability to appreciate and love one another.

From our Outspoken team to you, may your Christmas Eve be joyful and full of yummy delights!

On a side note, here are some helpful tips on how to help out those affected by the recent typhoon:

  • Make a secure donation to organizations who are dedicated to bringing relief and assistance to typhoon victims, such as Caritas or the International Medical Corps
  • Buy Filipino products as a way to support the country’s economy
  • Fund a child’s education in the Philippines through World Vision Philippines, which offers an easy way to sponsor a child or share a sponsorship
  • Help Filipinos find businesses and livelihood opportunities through CFO (Commission on Filipinos Overseas), an organization that helps people in the Philippines by offering them work and enterprise opportunities.
  • Support local NGO coronavirus response efforts to aid frontline health workers and institutions responding to the coronavirus pandemic

–Precious Ringor, Content Creator

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