I have traveled halfway across the world, been to 16 countries and 50+ cities, but there is only one place where I want to celebrate Christmas: in Tandag, my hometown in the Philippines.
Celebrating Christmas is a major event in the country. It starts not in December, but on the start of the -ber months. Once September rolls around, you would already hear Christmas carols in the air, and people would start making their Christmas list and writing Christmas cards. Some would begin putting up Christmas decorations, especially the parol (native star-shaped lantern), while TV stations would start the countdown. All over the country, streets would be livened up with multicolored lights. Truly, Christmas in the Philippines is one festive occasion!
Once December starts, prepare your coins, because groups of children (and even adults!) would go carolling from house to house, accompanied by music (noise?) made on tin cans or other homemade musical instrument. If you have godchildren as well, prepare your gifts for when they start calling! Some godparents would actually pretend they’re not home when the children come. Shame on them.
If you love parties, Christmas in the Philippines would be perfect for you. Starting December 15, there would be parties held one after another; in your workplace, neighborhood, associations, and various other groups. And what’s a party without food and gifts? Filipinos like exchanging gifts, so you would not only need to buy a present for your family and for your inaanak (godchildren), you’d have to buy some for your friends, officemates, and neighbors too. Giving cash is not so common; just buy a little something that you think the recipient would like.
Aside from receiving gifts from Santa Claus, one of my fondest childhood memories was waking up at 4am to the ringing of church bells, which signals the start of misa de gallo (dawn Mass held from December 16 to 24). I loved going out to Mass that early, shivering pleasantly in my jacket, knowing that afterwards, we would have some hot chocolate, bibingka (rice cake), and puto bumbong (another kind of rice cake).
When I was a bit older, I remember trying to attend Mass for nine straight nights, as Filipinos believe that if we complete the misa de gallo, our wish will come true. Unfortunately, I never got past three nights in a row.
The most awaited event, however, is the Christmas Eve. Everyone in my family attends the midnight Mass, which is actually held 2 hours before midnight so that we can be home when the clock strikes 12. We will then celebrate it with a noche buena (which refers to the feast on Christmas eve), usually consisting of lechon (roasted pig), fruit salad, cakes, gelatin, spaghetti, and various meat dishes. In deference to me (a pescatarian), a seafood dish will also be served. Other families would have queso de bola (a ball of edam cheese) and ham.
Nowadays, especially in the cities, a lot of people celebrate Christmas in the malls. Some also go out of town to celebrate, like in Boracay or Puerto Galera. However, in the small corner of the world where I was born, Christmas (and New Year’s Eve, too) still means celebrating it the traditional way. I know that no matter where I am for Christmas, I will always try to celebrate it with the people who matter the most for me: my family.
How do you celebrate Christmas?
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!