In my entire existence, there are only two years that I remember not celebrating Christmas in the Philippines.
The first was during the year 1999. I was then a student living in NYC. My dad decided he wanted to experience a “White Christmas”, so the entire family flew to New York, took over my tiny one-bedroom apartment, and froze themselves to misery. Hahaha!
I am so not kidding though 🙂 !
Because they were not used to the extremely chilly weather, my family all got sick with terrible sniffles. We spent the holidays in my tiny living room, with the heater on full blast, and a sad little table-top Christmas tree as my lone decoration. To add insult to injury, it hardly snowed at all so my dad’s wish for a white christmas went unfulfilled :(.
The next year, the year 2000, learning from our not-so-happy New York Christmas, we decided to spend the holidays in San Francisco instead, where the weather is relatively warmer, and where we have tons of friends and family.
I have to say, it was a vast improvement over the previous Christmas. First, we got a real tree! My first one ever! I didn’t realize it was such a production to put up, though. And my, what a mess we made on my mom’s cream carpet!
But once it was up, the tree filled our home with such a wonderful pine scent. Just thinking about it makes me smile :).
We also got to celebrate with all my cousins, titos, titas and friends. That was a lot of fun! I loooooove being surrounded by people, especially family. It sure beats celebrating in a crowded living room with just six other sick people like we did the previous year. Hahaha!
In the end, however, I think nothing beats celebrating the Holidays in the Philippines! First of all, the season starts as early as September so you end up celebrating for a longer period of time. Secondly, the entire country observes this special season so everywhere you go, the festiveness is felt and apparent. It’s in the air!
There are many more reasons to love the Holidays in the Philippines and in a nutshell, here are mine:
1. The holidays is when our family is always complete :).
My younger sister and brother both live abroad. During the holidays, they fly in from New York and San Francisco, and my parents’ home is once again filled with all of us siblings, and now even our families. Can you imagine what a riot that is? The dining table is always alive with chatter and laughter as we catch up on each other’s lives, and do our usual banter.
These are moments I really treasure, as they only happen for about two weeks at a time, once a year. That’s why, as soon as my sister arrives, I make sure to set my schedule around hers so that I’m available any time she wants to go out and do something. In other words, my life stops momentarily, and we are at her beck and call. Hahaha!
2. The holiday season means more reasons to party and get-together with family and friends!!!
Aside from my siblings, I have many other balikbayan friends and family who find their way home to the Philippines for Christmas. While it adds to the frenetic pace of my days, I truly enjoy meeting up with these friends either for pre-scheduled parties, or for impromptu brunch dates. It’s a great way to keep abreast of the goings on in our lives and to keep connected with each other.
The holidays is also a great time to see even our friends who are Manila-based, but who we rarely get to see because of tight schedules and other priorities. I love how we all make it a point to reserve a special date to see each other and celebrate. It is one of those occasions where attendance is a must :).
3. The weather becomes much cooler during the holidays 🙂
When I was much younger, the cool, crisp air could be felt as soon as the “ber” months hit. In my naivete, I really thought that was why these months ended in “ber”–because of the morning “brr” or chilly weather it brought.
Despite the fact that the weather has been a little bit out of whack lately, and we experienced rains and excruciating heat in December, we still had our fair share of snuggly blanket weather that really brought me back to my childhood days, and memories of early morning Simbang Gabi and puto bumbong 🙂 Mmmm… 🙂
4. I loooooove old Filipino holiday traditions, and creating new ones!
As I’d mentioned in the previous paragraph, some of our old Christmas traditions included Simbang Gabi where for 9 days, we had to go to mass at around 4am in the morning, eating bibingka and puto bumbong after, watching the Christmas Show at COD in Cubao, driving along Ayala Avenue to see all the buildings lit up and decorated, putting up and decorating our Christmas tree at home, opening presents on Christmas eve, receiving ampaw or money in red envelopes from our older relatives, going Christmas caroling, celebrating New Year’s at my lolo and lola’s house with a grand party with fireworks, etc. etc.
Those were really good times, and made my childhood Christmases really fun and memorable. I always felt that I grew up in such a wonderful, loving environment, and that my parents made it a point that we celebrated Christmas in a meaningful and unforgettable way. I guess they accomplished this because to this day, as an adult, I have so many fond memories of Christmas as a kid.
Now that I’m much older, we still do most of these traditions, but have slightly modified the others, especially now that I have a kid. I no longer am able to wake up for midnight mass, but Christmas is not complete without having my share of puto bumbong.
The lights along Ayala Avenue are not as spectacular, and the Christmas Show at COD has been defunct for many, many years, but has now been replaced with more modern, tech-savvy shows such as the light show in Ayala Triangle. I hope this is something we can do with A every year.
Our parties are much simpler, but we can never do without a fireworks display, in honor of lolo and lola.
Our party crowd has gotten much bigger through the years too, and we’ve started to invite even our extended families, and other close friends to our shindigs.
5. So much yummy food, and other delicious treats to eat during the holidays!
As a people, Filipinos generally love to eat, and it is almost a sure thing that one tends to gain weight during the holidays especially with all the parties to attend, as well as the food items that are given/received as gifts.
We also always have a special menu during the holidays. No fail, it never changes. Again, it is a tradition that we look forward to every year, and makes our Christmas celebration all the more special.
There are so many other reasons why I think celebrating the holidays in the Philippines can’t be beat! But basically it boils down to this–it’s about Food, Fun, Festivities, Friends and Family :).