Guest Author - Rachel Meneses-Ponce
Christmas season in the Philippines “officially” sets in after the almost frenetic activity of remembering the dead on November 2. To borrow a term, Christmas festivities is the “mother” of all festivities in the country.
You can see and feel Christmas everywhere. Employees are counting on the days when they will receive their bonuses. Malls compete with one another in announcing and holding super sales. Tiangges or flea markets abound like mushrooms. Even upscale and gated communities set up garage sales where their out-of-season designer items like clothes, bags and shoes are up for sale, purportedly to raise funds for charity. The most popular and very Filipino Parol or star lanterns are sold and displayed along with other Christmas decorations adapted from western cultures.
Schools prepare for Christmas programs that almost always feature the well-loved story about the birth of Jesus which locals refer to as the Bethlehem story. Christmas songs, played as early as September, are heard on radio stations more frequently. Major TV networks also gear up for their Christmas presentations that always include raffle contests for home viewers.
Definitely there is blatant commercialization and crash materialism at this time. However, Christmas for Filipinos remains as a time of thanksgiving and a time for renewed hope of a better, brighter future. The true spirit of Christmas which is the birth of the Child Jesus is still alive in the hearts of Filipinos. To this day, Filipinos observe the nine day simbang gabi or pre-dawned mass beginning December 16. This culminates with a Misa de Gallo or midnight mass on December 24, after which families would gather together to partake of the prepared feast at home. This tradition is known as Noche Buena, a feast to welcome Christmas Day at the strike of twelve midnight.
It is also a time for gift-giving as a way of sharing one’s blessings. No matter how meagre or humble a Filipino’s circumstance, s/he would prepare a gift for the family, relatives, friends, kids in the neighbourhood and even strangers. It is not uncommon to give gifts to people who render regular service like garbage collectors, barangay security people, street sweepers, and the newspaper delivery boy. Such is the display of the Filipino’s innate generosity.
Children, fitted with new clothes and shoes would be brought to visit Lolo and Lola (grandfather and grandmother) and the godparents. It is usual too that uncles and aunts are also the godparents or baptismal sponsors of the children. Christmas Day is also a reunion and a gathering of clan members where they pay homage to their living elders. The customary way of greeting and showing respect, is placing the backhand of the elder to one’s forehead or what the locals call as “mano po”.
Food lovers as they are, Filipinos would prepare the best food they could afford, putting in a big chunk of money on preparing a feast for visiting relatives and friends. The center of the food spread over a long table is the roasted pig. The well-known Filipino hospitality trait is clearly evident on this occasion as the Filipino opens his house to all.
Inevitably, an exchange of food – be it native delicacies, imported fruits, salads, pastries, dishes – would occur as it is the habit, almost a custom for guests to bring food as gift to the hosts. The hosts in return would give wrapped food (normally the one which the guest gushed over as delicious) for the guest to take home.
On the downside, a Filipino’s propensity for lavishness even though he could ill afford it and to the extent of getting into debt, is a trait that needs to be curved. In his desire to bring pleasure to everyone, he would not mind to buy or provide for the others first before his/her self. This attitude is borne out of love for family and friends. Christmas spending tells a lot too: scrooge, Filipinos are not!