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Pinoy Christmas traditions and practices

In a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines, the main Christmas tradition is one of preparation for the coming of the Savior in an atmosphere of family togetherness and in the spirit of sharing.

A regular feature of the Christmas season is the traditional lighting of the Christmas Tree and the explosion of light and color in homes, streets, commercial establishments and even some government buildings. Colorful lanterns or “parol” start to make their appearance by September. By this time also, Christmas carols begin to pervade the air.

Traditions and practices vary according to time and place so I asked my FB friends, here and abroad, how they observe Christmas.

Here are some of their thoughts:

What is unusual in the Philippines, notes Amelia H. Lopez, is the early advent of the Christmas season.

“Merry-making starts from the – ber months, adorning homes with all the trimmings befitting the Birth of our Saviour…”

Whether here or abroad, the main prelude to Christmas is the Simbang Gabi in joyful expectation of the arrival of the Savior. This is usually followed on Christmas Eve/ Christmas day, by the family reunion.

“It is a tradition to sing “Happy Birthday Jesus” and all will blow the candle in the cake and have our own wishes.

We also list the things we are thankful for in a card and share it during our noche buena meal, followed by (the) giving of gifts.” – Awee Raton-Hibanada

“Millions of Filipinos may be miles away from the Philippines but Christmas is a perfect time to relive traditions that bring back memories of childhood. In California, Simbang Gabi is celebrated by many faithfuls…. Last night, at the St. Philomena Church in Carson, CA, mass was celebrated by Archbishop Oscar Solis. There was a chorale group and a parol contest, too. A get-together with food and entertaiment sponsored by an organization or company concludes the evening each time. The nostalgia of Pasko – early dawn mass, puto bumbong, bibingka, carolers, parols, presence of families and friends – is hauntingly present during this season. Nothing can make one feel more homesick for the Philippines than the holidays.” – Malou C. Mariano

“Going to Christmas eve church service to remember the birth of Jesus, going on Skype to greet family in the Philippines…. Reading the first Christmas story before our kids open their presents on Christmas morning, then eating lunch/dinner with American family, watching Christmas lights on our way home. Months before Christmas, we send a balikbayan box for relatives.” – Shirley Kessler

“Christmas is a Reunion Day. Since all of our 7 children have their own famillies now, we do not expect them anymore to spend their Noche Buena in our house. But on Christmas day, they come to the house and stay for the whole day till late at night. We have games, programs, presentations by the “apos”, etc. Some spend the night with us. (F)eeling sad and lonely, we will wait again for a year to see everybody and be together again even for a day or two only.” – Babie H. Dulay

“Since both of us (KOICHI and I) were hoteliers, we were usually working on Christmas eve, so the children joined us in the hotel for dinner.” – Chelie Teofisto Tanaka

Those who cannot be together, relive and pine for the good old days.

“We used to always spend our Christmas Eve in the Church together with the whole family. But this year we cannot do it again because we now live far apart from each other. Because of poverty, we looked for greener pasture in far away places. I hope that we will celebrate the next Christmas time together again.” – Wilma Nacionales
Others, make an effort to at least be ‘virtually” together with their families.

“As a seafarer, we celebrate our Christmas with our family by at least getting online for a couple of minutes (due to time difference) just to greet everybody at home on Christmas Eve. Afterwards, we go back to duty. After duty, we celebrate with a can of beer with colleagues, greeting each other ‘Buon Natale’. Then we go to sleep because tomorrow is another work day in the middle of the sea.” – LJ

Others celebrate with their dear departed. I remember a poignant scene years ago when I was a child. Just before we started our Noche Buena, my father stood silently in prayer before the oil portraits of his parents. In one brief unusual moment, I thought I saw my father teary-eyed.

Raquel Ramos comments: “When our nanay died, we started celebrating Christmas in the cemetery. Now that they’re both gone, the more reason to celebrate Christmas in the same place.”

The spirit of sharing and giving, especially to the less privileged, is a common practice and tradition.

“Christmas to me is making poor children happy to let them feel the spirit of Christmas…. I keep busy thinking, buying simple things, simple gifts for the simple happiness of these poor children”. – Rachel Duran Ruelo
“In (Ateneo) grade school and high school, we used to have a Christmas package drive to raise goods for the poor.

This was a contest between classes (sections)” – Eli H. Navarrete

Still, some, like Alice Samera, cannot help but notice the “commercialization” of Christmas. She hopes that we all remember:

“Christmas is all about Him! Me handa o walang handa, my family celebrates the season by thanking God. This is our Thanksgiving Day.”

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(Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye)