We tend to think that Christmas in the Philippines is loud. What with all the lanterns lighting up the streets, Christmas songs on repeat, and year-ender sale as early as September. But amidst the auditory and visual noise, there is something beautiful hidden underneath it all. Much like presents wrapped in expensive fancy paper, Christmas in the Philippines has a gift that we don’t notice right away.
Our traditions give us hope
At exactly 3:00 in the morning of every 16th of December begins the tradition of Misa de Gallo. It is the time when people had to be in church in the cold early mornings. After the mass people would noisily crowd the freshly made pastries and hot chocolate for everybody. Elders say that if one made a wish and attended 9 mornings of mass before Christmas, their wishes will be granted. What we learned to love about this tradition(next to how good bibingka is), Filipinos make the effort to wake up so early to attend mass and still go to work or school, all for the promise of something good to come to their lives on Christmas day.
Good food made with a lot of heart
Easily the most anticipated get-together of the season, we’re all familiar with Noche Buena – the Filipino tradition of a Christmas Eve dinner. But despite the fact that we come together to celebrate each other’s company, there is one person who takes a silent applause – the best cook in the family. Whether it’s your mom, your tito, your lola, or your ate who has just learned how to make her first spaghetti, their time to shine has come. They spend the better part of the day preparing for this one night of the year when the people who matter the most come to savor the feast they worked hard on to make everyone come together. Noche Buena is for everyone, but the night belongs to them.
We love to celebrate
In the Philippines we haven’t really adopted Halloween as part of our culture despite us celebrating it. That’s because we start celebrating Christmas as early as September. News broadcasters start counting down the days until christmas, TV stations air their new Christmas-themed station I.D.s, shopping malls start playing christmas carols and certain Jose Mari Chan songs, and Christmas Parols everywhere. There’s no denying we get excited for Christmas earlier than most cultures. Some people would say almost way too early. But part of the excitement for non-working holidays, food, and year-end sales, is the excitement of seeing your relatives who you’ve been missing all year, coming home to the smell of the original lutong bahay, and that silent feeling of thanksgiving for somehow making it past all you’ve been through this year. Behind the overtly hyper-enthusiastic and overly-excitable people that we are, and especially when it comes to the people we love and spending time with them, we can’t help ourselves. We love to celebrate.
Christmas in the Philippines is loud. It’s almost unbearable some would say. But despite the wrappings of a gift that we didn’t ask for, it comes with sincerity and with the purest of intentions. And if we stop for a moment to think about what Christmas really means for us in our culture, we start to appreciate the enthusiasm and the excitement that comes with it year after year. And personally, I wouldn’t want it any other way.