Is there a place better to spend Christmas at than the Philippines? We all know the answer: none. Ask Filipinos residing in a different country and they’ll all say one thing “there’s nothing like Christmas back home.” Let’s go on a feels trip and enumerate the reasons why Pinas is the best place to be (especially) during the holidays.
You knew this was going to be the first one on the list, didn’t you? It’s one of the things we’re most famous of, after all. We love this holiday so much as a culture that we start celebrating Christmas once September kicks in.
While the rest of the world is still stuck with memes about Greenday and their song “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” we are already playing Christmas songs by, none other than, Jose Marie Chan.
Moms will start getting busy with decorations all around the house, while the dads are assigned to hang Christmas lights outside. You, along with your siblings, are probably the little helpers tasked to hand out whatever’s needed by either of the parents. And last, but not the least, designing the Christmas tree will be a joint effort. At the end of the day, you’ll all gather at the living room and your mom will turn off the fluorescent lights. You’ll all gaze in amazement as your home turns into a club, because of the on-and-off lights that sometimes play a monotone Christmas song. Wasn’t that so much fun?
Let’s not only talk about the date when we start celebrating because aside from being the earliest, we also end it the latest. Moms wouldn’t allow the fruit of the family’s teamwork to be put down right after Christmas. We only remove the décor once the holiday of the Three Kings (every 6th of January) is over.
Do you remember waking up so early in the morning—not like the typical 6 am, but the 3am kind of early? When people show up at work or at school looking like they need a few more hours of sleep, as you do, it’s a sign that Simbang Gabi has started.
For those who don’t know, Misa de Gallo, more commonly known as Simbang Gabi is a 4am mass that every Catholic Filipino attends from the 16th of December to Christmas Eve. The focus of the mass is the real meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus. They even reenact the whole story to the delight of everyone attending.
What’s also special about this mass is the belief that if you have completed the 9-day tradition, God will grant you a wish. That’s why no matter how sleepy or tired they are, these devoted Filipinos would stop at nothing.
Moreover, no Simbang Gabi would be complete without eating your favorite Puto Bumbong or Bibingka. These street foods are the most sought-after breakfast after the mass. Just a single order of each would be enough to satisfy you. The chewiness of the puto bumbong mixed with sugar or condensed milk and shredded coconut will make anyone happy. Add to it the sweet and salty goodness that is bibingka. That’s how you start the day right!
Have you experienced turning a large can of milk into a make-shift drum, as well as turning flattened bottle caps into percussions? You then go house to house with your playmates, singing Christmas carols that, most of the times, you don’t know the exact lyrics unless it’s in Filipino.
If you weren’t the type to go caroling, you’re probably the kid who your parents ordered to shout “patawad” or sorry, whenever carolers drop by.
Whether you were annoyed by it or you earned from it—this is a part of the tradition that you’ll miss when you’re away from home.
Are you even a Filipino if you never experienced a Noche Buena? It’s the midnight festivity wherein everyone in the family would gather to eat and celebrate the love we have for each other. Sounds cheesy, I know, but that’s the truth. You can remove everything else that makes a Filipino Christmas what it is, but as long the family remains, there will always be something to keep us merry.
Now, let’s talk about the food. Coming home from the Misa de Gallo, the whole family would be busy preparing for the party later that night. The delegation of tasks would be done, as well as the last minute shopping.
The food varies every household because this is the time everyone serves their specialties. Passed-down recipes that belong from the great-grandmother are the most requested meals. Basking in the limelight is the lechon or ham which will be gone after a few minutes. Other staples would be lumpiang shanghai, spaghetti, or fried chicken. Some would even order pancit or biko (sticky rice cake). There’s also the desserts—ube, leche flan, and anything made with cream and condensed milk (buko salad, buko pandan, graham cake, etc.).
The opening of the gifts would be done before or after eating, while some choose to wait until early the next day.
Christmas day is about sharing. And, who best to share to share all the blessings with than the cute little kids? During Christmas day itself, kids always wake up early, excited knowing that they’ll be visiting all the relatives in their best outfits, bought solely for the occasion.
Upon dropping by each house, aguinaldos or money will be given to the little ones. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, because it’s the thought that counts. Besides, considering how tight-knit Filipino families are, you have to expect many visitors, and one must budget the allocation of the Aguinaldos.
As a kid, you probably have a memory of gathering with your siblings and cousins, counting all your money and having a competition about which one got the most. Afterward, you’ll all buy something you’ve been asking your moms for the longest time. Or worse, your mom will keep the money for safekeeping, only to never be seen again. Years after, when you confront her about it during Noche Buena, she’d be like “oh that isn’t even enough to cover the amount of money I spent bringing you up,” and everyone will laugh.
Wherever you are in the world, you can always add a touch of Filipino in your Christmas celebrations. The easiest way would be to serve the taste of home. Check out everything we have at our Filipino food store for the exact ingredients you or your parents used to buy. Enjoy the taste of childhood with everything that you need to be delivered right at your doorstep.