I have yet to meet a Filipino working or residing abroad who doesn’t wish to spend the Christmas season here in the Philippines. Pinoys scattered all over the world always have this strong desire to travel thousands of miles just to make their way back home.
Because, regardless of the number of years one has to stay abroad, the Philippines will always be home to all Filipinos.
So, some would be inclined to wonder:
What is it about the Philippines that has the power to lure its citizens back into its arms especially during the Yuletide?
Mom On A Mission (yup, that’s me!) will attempt to dispel the perplexity and confusion by untangling the mysteries surrounding this thing called Paskong Pinoy. 🙂
For a predominantly Christian country such as the Philippines, Christmas is an exceptionally important part of our religious faith. It is, after all, the celebration of the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. Christmas Day is ushered in with the traditional nine dawn masses or Simbang Gabi that start on the 16th of December and last until the 24th. In most parishes, these masses are held as early as 4:00 in the morning. It takes quite an effort to complete the Simbang Gabi, but for all the Catholic faithful, it is a worthy and meritorious sacrifice. Catholics believe that completing the novena means a special grace or favor granted to the devotees.
After the Simbang Gabi, the parishioners are greeted with the succulent smell of bibingka (a rice cake made from galapong, baked in a special clay pot, lined with a piece of banana leaf, topped with slices of cheese and salted eggs, and cooked with live coals on top and underneath) and puto bumbong (a purple sticky rice steamed in a bamboo tube and seasoned with butter, brown sugar and coconut shavings). The vendors outside the church also offer salabat (ginger tea) to warm up the people’s tummies amid the biting cold of the early morning.
Another reason why our kababayans like to spend Christmas in the Philippines is our close ties with our families. This special bond or connection among family members is a trait innate to most Filipinos. We have been raised to value our families above all else. Some of us even grew up living not just with our immediate families, but also with some close relatives. It is thus easy to understand why we would want to be with our families during the most important occasions. Any celebration of the holidays seems lackluster if the entire family is not in full attendance.
It is also during the Christmas break that reunions and get-togethers of old friends, work colleagues, schoolmates, batchmates and classmates happen. These occasions normally entail taking long trips down memory lane, lots of parlor games and picture-taking and, of course, our very own fun way of exchanging gifts, the Monito Monita.
Another appeal of the Paskong Pinoy? Philippines holds the record of having the world’s longest Christmas celebration. For most countries, Christmas is just a one-day event. But for us, it is an occasion that could span four months! The start of the first “ber month” is the signal to hang all those colorful decorations around the house and play those mood-lifting Christmas carols over and over again. Even the streets, parks and various establishments are enveloped in the brilliance of shimmering lights. Commuters are also treated to a musical delight as Christmas songs blare from the loudspeakers of buses, jeepneys and, yes, tricycles. So, for practically four months (except for a short break during the All Saints’ Day), the country is abuzz with the prevalence of the Yuletide spirit, with the amount of excitement building up each day in eager anticipation of the Christmas Day itself. And 100 days before Christmas, the countdown already begins!
One more thing that sets Paskong Pinoy apart is the throngs of Christmas carolers that spread cheer and merriment to our streets through Christmas songs. These instrument-toting carolers that usually come in large groups of all ages hop from house to house after singing a couple of jolly songs and receiving the aguinaldo that some satisfied and generous home owners bestow upon them.
We, Filipinos, also love sales, bargains and haggling. And during the holidays, there are night markets, bazaars and tiangges everywhere. All those hard-to-find items, particularly the souvenirs that we only see during this time of the year, could be purchased at very low prices depending on one’s haggling skills.
The Christmas Day itself in the Philippines is like no other. The kitchen is ordinarily teeming with an array of dishes and aroma that appeal to the senses. We are reminded of the good old days when, after hours of playing outside with friends, we would go home and be greeted by the delicious scents wafting through the air – scents that, later on, would always bring us back to our childhood.
During the Noche Buena, families gather around the dining table to partake of the feast before them. Homes get filled with laughter, excited voices, the ear-piercing screams of the children, the soft whisper of your spouse, and the joyous sound of the Christmas carol playing in the background. Stories are shared, smiles are given, gifts are received, and hugs and kisses are exchanged. Indeed, it is a merry Christmas!
Now, tell me, is there another place in the world that could beat our very own Paskong Pinoy?
I don’t think so.