Christmas, for the Filipinos, is the highlight of the year. As early as September, TV stations count the days until its arrival. For a nation as family-oriented and as festive as ours, it’s not that hard to imagine how much of a big deal celebrating Christmas is. One can even say that Filipinos truly embody the Christmas spirit.
Christmas – is not just about the gifts, thank you’s, and the people. It is – above all – the birthday of Jesus Christ. And for a country like mine that is mostly habited by Christians, it makes even more sense why it is a big deal, indeed. Why it is so meaningful and widely anticipated.
But what is Christmas like in a country where there is no snow? a tropical climate, political debates everywhere, and too much drama and poverty all over?
TV STATIONS’S CHRISTMAS JINGLES
The Philippines, as of now, has 3 main TV stations of which ordinary citizens without cable network can watch. And in addition to the holiday spirit of constant reminders on how much time is left until Christmas eve, these stations release christmas jingles highlighting the true ‘Pinoy Christmas’ as we Filipinos know it.
A new one every year, Filipinos get in the mood for the holidays as they sing along to these songs that surely bring out the joy in them.
Okay. This may not be a unique trait only to Filipinos given that music is in all cultures, worldwide, but as for me, this is the one thing that distinguishes Pinoy Christmas celebrations from others. Why? Rarely, at least I think, would you hear out of tune carolers outside the Philippines. In my beloved country, it’s a commonality! In all the places that me and my family have lived over the years, I find it rare to hear carolers with good voices, or at the very least, those in tune to the songs they’re singing. What’s amazing and truly very Christmas-y of this is… the families don’t seem to mind! Like they always say, “It’s the thought that counts, right?” And besides, Filipinos don’t celebrate Halloween so Christmas may be the only time that kids get to knock on doors and do some entertaining. Just as long as the dogs are put on a leash, of course. This is not to throw bad stones into our nation full of great singers well-known all over the world though, just an observation. And you know… something you might want to consider when you spend Christmas here. Caroling is one I am proud to have experienced in my early days. Or was it caroling? Hmm… You see, I am pretty lazy when times permit so what I did was ditch my friends and went back to our house, that night, (I was maybe 5 or 6 years old?) where my godparents were busy drinking and being merry. I sang in front of them and voila! 500 pesos on the spot! I no longer remember where the money went though. Pretty sure in my parents pocket and I was tricked with chocolates. Haha!
LANTERNS AND CHRISTMAS TREES PLUS WHERE YOU FIND THEM SHINE
Another common aspect of this season. However, what’s special is how and where the Filipinos put up these things. I have had the amazing opportunity to pass by places with ingenious Christmas trees, one made out of bamboo, one where it looked like the Eiffel Tower, and even went inside one! Literally. Just for laughs.
SIMBANG GABI/MISA DE GALLO AND THE FOOD
Simbang gabi ta unya?
Simbang gabi (night mass) is a nine-day devotional mass celebrated by Christians and Aglipayans in the Philippines. The masses start early in the morning from as early as three to five, depending on your parish. This early in the morning, Filipinos young and old, go to mass to pray and celebrate in anticipation for Christmas eve and also, to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. Held daily from December 16th-24, the last day also known as Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass), Filipinos uphold this tradition also in the hope that if they finish all nine days, their Christmas wish would come true.
Of course, after the mass, you eat. And what’s better than eating breakfast after praying? Eating food delicacies readily available for sale outside churches! From the very iconic puto bumbong, to bibingkas, and otaps for the children. Hot chocolate, sikwati and kape barako, is sold for the adults too.
Food for the body after food for the soul, indeed.
MONITO/MONITA, THE MYTH OF SANTA, AND GIFTS
Nothing says Christmas like presents and Santa Claus! Not a child does not know about Santa. When I was young, I still am, I believed in Santa and my eyes would shine like fireflies everytime my stocking gets full to the brim everytime I wake up the morning. That was — when one night, I woke up suddenly, nature calling me and as I stepped toward the toilet, I saw my ‘Santa’ is my dad. Thus was the story of how I became a prankster and why I constantly tortured my little brother about who Santa really is when he was still a kid, he is still a kid. I blame it all on my bladder! Nevertheless, kids in the Philippines pay no heed to who Santa Claus is. Sometimes, I even think that the streetkids are having fun and celebrating Christmas even more than me and my family does.
Through all the countless Christmas parties I have attended and neglected to attend, I have always had the notion that gift-giving is beyond the materiality and expensiveness of the gift.
For a lonely grandma, those out of tune carolers may be the best gift. For a grumpy grandpa, watching the blinking Christmas lights may be the only thing that could bring him joy.
And for a lonely, sad, wide-eyed girl writing words on the eve of Christmas, thinking about her friends and knowing they’re having a splendid time may be enough for her too.
Smiles are the best gifts, after all.
THE COUNTDOWN TO HIS BIRTHDAY