Pasko, or Christmas in English, is the most awaited holiday for us Filipinos. We are even known to be the earliest to start celebrating because as soon as the first -Ber month hits (September), Christmas songs will be heard playing in the radios. Countdowns start blaring from local news channels giving their viewers the giddy feeling while marking down their own calendars. It’s like everyone becomes a child all over again.
People start decorating around. November. After celebrating All Saints’ and Souls’ Day on the 1st and 2nd of November, Christmas lights and parol (Christmas lantern) start popping out from windows and doors of houses. I always thought that such days of remembering the dead called for an immediate uplifting of mood. Hence, the incessant hangings of bright Christmas decorations soon after.
People like myself who will not be spending Christmas in the Philippines tend to experience the dreaded Christmas blues. Yes, I must admit a White Christmas is nice to experience but nothing beats Christmas in the Philippines. Nostalgic of past Christmases with my family as a child, I remember how excited I felt whenever my father would tell me we would be setting up the Christmas tree. I would anticipate plugging in the musical lights, they twinkled with the beat. Up until now, I still remember the order of the songs.
We also used to hang this big Santa banner wishing anyone who would come in the house with a “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”. I’m guessing my father didn’t seem happy enough with that since we also had to display a Christmas streamer on the other side of the wall saying just the same.
Simbang Gabi is an old tradition back home. A series of dawn masses are held in the churches. The first one starts on December 16 and the last one heralds Christmas Eve, the 24th. It is said that if one has completed hearing all early morning masses (as early as 3am) he can make a wish that for sure will be granted. Feeling the morning chill was enough to motivate me to go. Well, it also didn’t hurt that vendors outside the church sold puto-bungbong (purple sticky rice delicacy steamed in bamboo tubes) or bibingka (rice cake). Those were our constant take-home treat for breakfast.
Food is the star of Christmas Eve for us Filipinos. Or all special occasions, for that matter. Noche Buena (how we call the eve of Christmas) is the time when families gather to eat and exchange gifts. The table is laden with all sorts of traditional Filipino Christmas food like lechon, Quezo de Bola, hamonado, lumpia, adobo, rice (of course!), leche flan, and fruit salad amongst others. My cousins and I could not wait for Monito-Monita time or the exchanging of gifts since a few days before the awaited night, we had the bad habit of trying to guess who picked whom.
Looking back as the day nears, the more I miss Paskong Pinoy. My Christmas blues are just starting but I am grateful that as a kid I experienced such happy Christmases in the Philippines. Now, I see the real beauty of the season. The gifts, food, and merry-making do make it pretty special but the real essence of it is love from family and friends. The pure spirit of it which I felt during this time of the year marked a very unforgettable niche in my memory.
How do you celebrate Christmas in your country? Let us know what’s different about yours.