The Anatomy of a Balikbayan Box


by Cynthia de Castro – The “ber” months have started and with September comes that special holiday feeling. In the Philippines, which is known to have the longest celebration of Christmas, malls and department stores have already started playing Christmas songs and selling holiday decors and gifts. In the countries where millions of Filipinos have immigrated or are working, the demand for balikbayan boxes has started to increase as families begin shopping for their holiday gifts to be sent back to relatives and friends in the homeland.

For Filipinos in the US, sending balikbayan boxes to families back in the Philippines has become a major part of our lifestyle. Those who have children, parents or siblings left in the Philippines send boxes regularly, either on a monthly or quarterly basis. But, at Christmas time, many FilAms double their usual padala, adding special gifts and holiday treats to the usual staple items.

One Filipina nurse, Nany, who sends boxes to her parents and siblings in Quezon City at least every 2 months, said she’s always on the look-out for special sale items when she goes malling. “I always have a balikbayan box in the house where I store things to send back home. I love going to malls and stores when it’s sale season to look for things I can send to my family in Manila. Whether it’s just in the regular supermarket nearby, in Costco or in the outlet stores in Camarillo or Ontario, I enjoy hunting for clothes, shoes, bags or food items that are on sale. I then keep them in the box until it’s full. Once I send it home, I have a new box to fill up. Ang sarap ng feeling pag nakapagpadala ka ng box,” Nany said.

So, what’s in those balikbayan boxes? What are the most popular items that get sent back home to excited family members? What are the most requested items?

“We usually send the basic items which our children need such as canned goods and bath items,” admitted Yoly, a caregiver in Orange County. “Kasi, ang mamahal na din ng mga grocery items sa Pinas kaya I make sure I send them these things monthly. Para yung padala kong pera, sa mga household bills na lang,” she added.

After asking quite a number of Pinoys who regularly send boxes, we discovered that the anatomy of a balikbayan box is very similar in content. The top 15 items that Pinoys usually send back home are: 1) Spam, 2) Hereford Corned Beef, 3) Centrum Multi-vitamins, 4) Chocolates (top on everyone’s list: Hershey’s, Kisses, Ferrero Rocher, M&Ms, Nestle Crunch, Cadbury & Toblerone), 5. Bath soaps (Dove, Ivory, & Irish Spring are the preferred brands), 6. Shampoo & Conditioner (Pantene, followed by Head & Shoulders, Neutrogena, & Kirkland ), 7) Colgate toothpaste, 8) Coffee (Folgers,Taster’s Choice and Maxwell are favorite brands) and hot chocolate drinks (Swiss Miss and Nestle), 9) Quaker Oatmeal and Breakfast Cereals (Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes and Choco Puffs), 10. Cookies (Famous Amos, Oreos, and Chips Ahoy), and Chips (Pringles, Doritos and Nachos), 11) T-shirts (Old Navy and Gap are favorites), 12) Towels, 13) Bath and Body Works and Victoria Secret products, 14) Rubber Shoes (Nike is the preferred brand), and 15) Sugar substitutes such as Splenda and Sweet N’ Low.

Other items that didn’t make it to the top 15 items but are still in a lot of balikbayan boxes are colognes, pants, sandals, flip-flops, shoes, bags, wallets, and magazines. Favorite shopping places for balikbayan box items are Wal-Mart, Target, 99 Cents, Ross and Costco.

For the holiday seasons, our kababayans usually add another box to complement the usual regular items. Inside the holiday gift boxes are clothes, shoes and accessories bought from outlet stores and malls such as Forever 21, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy, Nike, Adidas, Gap and Hollister.

“I make sure I get a gift for everyone in the family –sa lahat ng pamangkin, pinsan, katulong etc.,” said Rita who works in the garment district in downtown. “I know that it’s not really just the gift that they treasure, it’s the thought that you remembered them and took the time to shop and send Christmas gifts to them. That’s what really counts,” she said.

Yes, balikbayan boxes are not just filled with goods, they’re filled with love, affection and devotion. And for Filipinos abroad, they can’t seem to send too much of those back home.

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  1. The Anatomy of a Balikbayan Box…

    by Cynthia de Castro – The “ber” months have started and with September comes that special holiday feeling. In the Philippines, which is known to have the longest celebration of Christmas, malls and department stores have already started playing Ch…

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