What Filipinos miss most about Christmas back home

MALOU LIWANAG-BLEDSOE | AJPRESS SAN FRANCISCO – MY first Christmas away from home was four years ago, and was made more melancholy because my mom decided to fly back to the Philippines to spend the holidays with my brothers and their families. I, in turn, spent Christmas with my sister’s friends and people I hardly knew. This year, both my mother and sister (who has not been home since 2000) are in the Philippines to celebrate Christmas with the rest of our family.

Years later, Christmas in the United States became less sad for me. I realized that a lot of Filipinos have been away from home much longer than I have, and have yearned to spend Christmas in the Philippines. Most of those who were asked why they have not had the chance to fly back home gave a number of reasons—finances, busy schedules and/or lack of vacation time. For whatever reasons they have, all of them agree that Filipinos’ pasko is the merriest and most meaningful.

We asked a number of people about what they miss most about spending Christmas in the Philippines and here are the top answers we got:

Simbang Gabi

From December 16 to December 24, the Simbang Gabi is a tradition that Filipinos revere since its origins in the early days of Spanish rule. Usually done as early as 4 or 5 in the morning, this cherished Christmas custom is a distinct feature of Philippine culture and is a symbol of sharing. Friends and family members wake up early, eager to complete the nine-day series of Holy Mass. A number of Filipinos also see this tradition as their devotion, while some believe that if they complete the nine days of Masses, they could ask for a wish to come true.


“Sa may bahay, an gaming bati, Meri Krismas na maluwalhati…” Who would not miss the innocent voices of children going house-to-house with their makeshift instruments? In the Philippines, Christmas caroling can be as simple as two kids banging silverware and empty cans, to an elaborate musical number complete with costumes and dance.

Pangangaroling represents the sounds of Christmas, and wouldn’t be as festive without it. With the traditional chant of “Namamasko po,” young carolers are rewarded with money or in kind, which they answer back singing, “Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo, thank you.”

The festive decors

As early as October-November, Filipinos start putting up Christmas decorations in their houses, neighborhood and offices. A lot of people from other countries find this delightfully surprising, especially here in the US, where we don’t usually see decors until after Thanksgiving Day.
Christmas decors in the Philippines range from the simplest parol lantern, a few lights, a Christmas tree, or as elaborate as a life-sized manger (or belen) scene with baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Three Kings.

Years ago, our parents would whisk us to Cubao to watch COD Department Store’s Christmas display. Back then, it was a fantasy world where one can watch life-size dolls move, talk, sing and tell stories. Animatronics may not be as advanced then, but it was a part of our childhood, forever imprinted in memories. Although the COD’s Christmas display has left Cubao, it has found a new home at the Greenhills Shopping Center since 2000.

Noche Buena

It is not a Filipino Christmas without at least one of the following food on your Noche Buena table – queso de bola, hamon, morcon, relleno and/or embutido. Yes, we Filipinos celebrate big with food and we don’t usually scrimp on what we serve.

Noche Buena is held during Christmas Eve and could last until about 4am the following day. Minus the sumptuous food, it is an opportunity for family and friends to get together, exchange and open gifts, and reminisce past Christmas gatherings. Some have pointed out the excesses and over-the-top spreads, but as many would point out, Christmas comes only once a year.

Being with family and friends

Setting aside the food, gifts and other traditions; being with family and friends has been the top reason for Filipinos to want to go home for Christmas. As one respondent explained, “We may have the most expensive gifts, or a whole load food on the table, but it nothing compared to the feeling that your loved ones are with you.”

True enough, the sparkling lights, the joyful songs and all the food you can eat is only a mere portion of what Christmas is all about – and that is, being with the ones you love.

*Let us also keep in mind and heart our brothers in Mindanao and Visayas who have been struck by tragedy and loss by Typhoon Sendong. Let us share what we can so that they may also be able to feel the spirit of sharing and compassion this Christmas.


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