My Christmas Holidays
Do you know what marks the Christmas season in the Philippines?
It’s the four months of the year ending with –ber. The Philippines is known worldwide as having the world’s longest Christmas season which starts on September 1 (“Filipino Christmas Traditions”). What else can better indicate this festive season than Jose Mari Chan songs breezing through sound systems in public markets, in jeepneys, in malls… even in my dreams? Daily homeward commute allows me sights of stores displaying glowing parols, as well as Christmas lights marking the silhouette of Santa Claus on his sleigh; and the classic nativity scene, Belen, and Christmas decors adorning establishments. Then rampant Christmas sales announcement in malls and online shops, and even the online games I often play will start giving off the Christmas vibes.
Schools and workplaces will begin having their Christmas parties with the traditionally “required” exchange gifts. I have traumatic experience of my elementary and high school parties where I often received alarm clocks or picture frames. Another name for such “required” exchange gift done weekly is the Monito-Monita. There are themes i.e. “Something colorful” to make it easier – or harder? – to decide what to prepare as a gift. Bob Ong has an interesting anecdote on the origin of this occasion. Perhaps Monito is a miserable person who never receives any gift. So, to receive one, he strikes a deal with Monita, another person on the same boat. Other people start jumping into the boat and henceforth, the tradition of exchanging gifts begins. Everyone becomes happy and businesses boom (Ong, 2002).
There are two known traditions that begin by 16th of December, one of which is caroling. This is where people, especially children and adolescents, would go household hopping and singing in the rhythm of their instruments, hoping to be spared with a few coins or even bills. The usual jingle is: “Sa may bahay ang aming bati Merry Christmas maluwalhati!” (“We joyfully wish this home a Merry Christmas!”). When finally spared with the goodness of the household, the caroling team will sing: “Thank you, thank you! Ambabait ninyo (You’re so kind), thank you!” If not spared, the Ambabait will be replaced with Ambabarat (stingy) before moving on to the next victim. In our caroling team, we had a guitar along with other improvised instruments such as a tambourine made from flattened metal caps from glass bottles of soft drinks. A hole will be drilled on the center of these caps where a metal wire will be inserted. This metal wire will be tied on the other end and voilà, a tambourine! An improvised drum can be made out of a huge empty can of milk, then two sticks wrapped with several layers of thick rubber bands at one end can serve as drumsticks.
The other tradition is Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi (Evening Mass) which starts on December 16 and ends December 24. These devotional masses usher in the event of Jesus’ birth. Back in the Spanish era, the Friars held these masses very early in the morning because the locals were farmers who woke up very early to work in the fields (Saint Catherine of Siena Parish, n.d.). Regardless, the cool December breeze brings me to deep slumber that I often miss the masses. Good thing churches begin including actual evening Simbang Gabi in their schedules and I can somehow attend. There is a superstition that when a person attends all sessions of the Simbang Gabi, his/her wish will come true. Not that I actually believe it. Simbang Gabi is a matter of opportunity cost on your early sleep or extended sleep, especially if you are coming home exhausted from school or work, or you have school or work very early the next day. Yet back in 2013, I actually completed Simbang Gabi. And guess what? My not-so-serious wish was granted the next year – to have a boyfriend.
After Simbang Gabi, the preparation moves on to Noche Buena or the feast on Christmas Eve. It’s a time for extended families to gather around for a feast. Back in the 16th century, the Friars required local churchgoers to fast until Christmas morning. This was why they conjured up a feast in the midnight before going back to bed (Pepper PH, 2014). This year in our household, our table has fruits, fried chicken, fruit salad, soft drinks, cake, and the yearly pancit canton ration from our neighbor. I love going out during the Christmas Eve as I want to watch fireworks lighting up the skies. When I was younger, I could buy firecrackers as early as September. Mama often scolded me because I might lose several body parts with the firecrackers. I even had a few pranks with firecrackers. One time I saw a man urinating in front of the wall. I lit up my piccolo and threw it between his feet where it exploded. As I ran away, eyes tearing up suppressing my laughter, I heard the man’s curses.
Just this 20th of June 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Executive Order No. 28 that bans private citizens from staging fireworks displays at their homes. EO28 limits the use of firecrackers to community fireworks displays which must be permitted by the municipality or city concerned, and should be done under the supervision of a “trained person duly licensed by the Philippine National Police.” This is a reasonable regulation as there have been a huge number of injuries and spike in air pollution before when fireworks display was not yet regulated (Ranada, 2017). This explains why I do not see nor hear fireworks these holidays. So, I resolve into being informed on the venue of fireworks displays in our barangay for the upcoming New Year’s Eve.
Then here comes the Christmas Day. One interesting activity on this day is when children start hunting down for their godparents to expect gifts, and the godparents will start hiding under the rocks never to be heard from again. Traditionally, godparents were responsible for carrying out a child’s religious education, and for caring for the child should something happen to the parents. Yet that is not so much the case today (Willis, 2015).
So, what really marks the Christmas season in the Philippines? Is it the decorations, the gifts, the food? With various activities that can be done in celebration of Christmas holidays, what is it that we truly celebrate this season? As I understand it, Christmas is to celebrate our ability to still be happy despite the setbacks in the past, and more so to share this happiness with others, especially with the less fortunate. It’s the meaning and our clean intentions that makes Christmas holidays more enjoyable and memorable to celebrate.
- Filipino Christmas Traditions. (n.d.). Retrieved: 29 December 2017, from https://www.tagaloglang.com/filipino-christmas-traditions/
- Ong, B. (2002). Bakit Baliktad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino? Mga Kwentong Barbero ni Bob Ong. Visual Print Enterprises. Makati City, Philippines.
- Ranada, P. (2017). Duterte limits use of firecrackers to ‘community displays’. Retrieved: 29 December 2017, from https://www.rappler.com/nation/173562-duterte-executive-order-limit-use-firecrackers-community-displays
- Saint Catherine of Siena Parish. (n.d.). History of Simbang Gabi. Retrieved: 29 December 2017, from http://www.sienachurch.org/scsf/Events/History%2520of%2520Simbang%2520Gabi.pdf
- Pepper PH. (2014). The Origins of Noche Buena and Other Filipino Holiday Feasts. Retrieved: 29 December 2017, from http://www.pepper.ph/origins-filipino-feast/
- Willis, O. (2015). What does it mean to be a godparent in 2015? https://www.independent.ie/life/family/family-features/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-godparent-in-2015-34161424.html