This is my 4th Christmas that I have spent in Singapore. I have spent a few Christmases in Saudi Arabia and once in Bahrain. But I have to tell you, ‘Iba talaga ang Pasko sa Pilipinas’. Yes, there is something uniquely special in celebrating Christmas in the Philippines. I mean no disrespect to my host countries that I am staying in or the countries I have lived in at that particular time of my life. Let me explain. Maybe it has to do a lot of childhood memories. Christmas and New Year celebration in the Philippines were one of my fondest childhood memories. It also has to do with the fact that the Philippines is largely a Catholic country so 99.9% (don’t quote me on this) of the people celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Filipinos love Christmas. It is our favorite time of the year. When the ber-month starts, we are already setting up our Christmas trees and you hear Christmas songs blasting on the radio. By December, you would have carollers, composed of kids aging from 5 to 12 years old singing Christmas songs at your gate, hoping to get a pamasko, a Christmas token in a form of several centavos or pesos. Upon receiving their token, they will sing a classic thank you song for you. “Thank you Thank you ang babait ninyo, Thank you!” (Thank you, Thank you, you are all so kind. Thank you!).
Come December 16, it is the start of Simbang Gabi or Misa De Gallo. It’s a Christmas tradition Filipinos inherited from Spaniards. We would go to mass at dawn around 4:30AM and the songs sang in our Parish church are often in Latin. When we were young, my siblings would be so excited to wake up early for mass. By 3AM, we are already on our church clothes and shoes. But sometimes the alarm clocks of the adults wouldn’t go off, that by 6AM, our adult companions would are supposed to go with us to church would find us sleeping in our beds wearing our going-out clothes and our shoes. They would laugh so hard seeing us so excited and ending up asleep. When we attend the Simbang Gabi mass, after we would buy bibingka, a hot rice cake, being heated on a wheeled-kiosks by the side of the church. We would eat it walking home from church and bring the rest home to other members of the household who didn’t attend the Simbang Gabi. The Simbang Gabi mass would culminate on the eve of Christmas day. They say if you complete the 9 Simbang Gabi mass, you can make a wish or prayer and it will come true. I only completed the 9 Simbang Gabi masses once and it was when I was reviewing for my Doctorate in Medicine licensure examination in Manila. I prayed that I will pass the board exam and I did!
On the eve of Christmas, the elders would tell us to sleep or else, Santa Claus will not come into our house. While us, kids, sleep, the adults would be busy in the kitchen cooking up a storm for our noche buena (12-midnight Christmas feast) with our audio system turned on in full volume, blasting with Christmas songs. We would borrowed our dad’s old big socks and hang it in the window with our letter for Santa Claus. The air is filled with excitement because every household are doing the same thing as our family. It is often chilly during this time of the year, with cold wind blowing in the air, which adds to the Christmas-y atmosphere.
By 12 midnight, the kids are woken up for Noche Buena. The dining table would be filled with lots of foods: ham, queso de bola, macaroni salad, lumpia shanghai, spaghetti, cake, etc. The house just goes crazy with non-stop chattering, clanging of utensils, laughter and music. There is a noisy but distinctively cheerful atmosphere in every homes. Kids would be busy checking out their stockings for goodies from Santa. We often get chocolates, candies, lollipops and an apple on our stockings. We would keep these goodies in a shoe box to save until New Year’s Day. We would pester the adults on questions like: how did Santa Claus come in our house, did his jelly belly fit into our house, how did he look like? After we filled our bellies with noche buena food that would resemble Santa Claus’ belly, our mama would hand out our gifts. We enjoy opening our gifts and showing it around for others to see. We would sip some grape juice and when we were a bit older, we were allowed to have a glass of wine which we often wouldn’t finish anyway.
Outside, you hear cheerful sounds of music, talking and laughter from our neighbors with the same feverish fun atmosphere. Sometimes you can see and hear fire works in the sky. We would either go back to sleep or watch a Christmas movie until we fall asleep. Ahhh, such beautiful memories… Maybe next year, I would get to experience Christmas in the Philippines again. I would love Naj and Fynn to experience it too. Iba talaga ang Pasko sa Pilipinas, my Filipino doctor- friend who is working here in Singapore, who went home this Christmas echoed my sentiments… Or we can also try spending Christmas in other parts of the globe that we have never been yet.
Belated Merry Christmas everyone!