by Madeline McWilliams
As we celebrate Christmas, I would like to share my childhood Christmas celebration. It’s many traditions that I am longing for and missed for the past 22 years. Let me take you to the Philippines.
Christmas in the Philippines is a very, very festive occasion. It’s the most anticipated holiday of the year.
Being a predominantly Catholic nation, Christmas is our most celebrated holiday. Traditions abound in various parts of our country during this time. This is the time when Filipinos working in various parts of the globe flock the international airports just to get a flight home to be with their families during this time. Even locally, the domestic flights are packed with locals who want to go home to their provinces or hometowns to celebrate Christmas.
Christmas is also a great time for our retailers, supermarkets, department stores and merchandisers. Sales during the last quarter of the year leading to Christmas day alone beat the sales of these businessmen for the first three quarters! Even during hard times, sales are still better during this time of the year (albeit not as good during the pre-crisis years) than any of the other months during the same year.
The ‘Ber Months
What are these months? Let me just enumerate them – September, October, November and December. The Philippines actually has one of the longest Christmas seasons (it has been said that we have the longest Christmas season) and it starts in September. As early as September, you will already hear Christmas carols being sung on the radio and on TV. Decors are already starting to sprout up or sold for the buyers who are starting to shop around for Christmas. Christmas gifts are already on display in various stores around the country.
The food! Christmas gifts can be in the form of food (Food for the Gods or the Rhum Cake) or wines and spirits. Hams (of various types, shapes and sizes) are sold in abundance during this time. Keso de Bola (cheese shaped like a ball) also goes hand in hand with the ham. Lechon (roasted pig) is another staple during this time (oooohhh, my blood pressure!) especially here in my place where they ran out of pigs during the Christmas season! What else? Filipino desserts such as leche flan, halayang ube, puto, bibingka, mmmmmmm! And who can forget the fruit salad or the macaroni salad (getting hungry here)!
We celebrate a lot of traditions during this time. There’s the Misa de Gallo (dawn mass) which starts from December 16 and ends nine days later on the eve of Christmas. Usually the Misa de Gallo happens at around 4:00 in the morning but lately, the churches are also conducting Misa de Gallo at around 9 or 10 in the evening. Those who complete the nine days (also considered a novena) are said to have their wishes granted after the nine days.
Christmas parties are another tradition here. These parties will not be complete without the Kris Kringle or the exchange of gifts. Here, the participants draw out the names of their partners beforehand (it’s a secret, of course) then exchange the gifts during the party. There are also contests, parlor games and song and dance numbers to make the party more fun and exciting.
Christmas Day (December 25) is a celebration by itself. Families go to mass on December 24 then gather around their homes at the stroke of midnight to partake of the Noche Buena food.
The New Year’s Eve is another tradition within this season. To celebrate the incoming new year, Filipinos stay awake the night of December 31st to prepare food, light up fireworks and firecrackers and eat the Media Noche at the stroke of midnight.
Stage plays are also much anticipated during this time. The reenactment of what happened during Jesus’ birth is a common theme for these plays. Sometimes, even, the couples who play Mary and Joseph go around the neighborhood and knock on people’s doors (pre-arranged of course) where they get subsequently turned down before they find their place on a ‘manger’ which happens to be inside the parish church. This is called ‘Panunuluyan’.
Lastly, Christmas carols and songs round up our Christmas traditions. Caroling (going around to the houses and singing Christmas songs or carols) is a very common tradition, where the singers are rewarded with coins, or food or both. In fact, caroling can sometimes become the preferred activity to raise funds for groups.
This sums up my childhood Christmas, my tradition and wonderful memories.
Merry Christmas to All !!!