Philippine Culture: December in the Philippines

Does anything else matter during December in the Philippines aside from Christmas? Following is a piece I wrote about a year ago about Christmas in the Philippines, particularly for Pinoys based elsewhere:

Sensing Christmas, Pinoy Style

Advent is upon us. The word "advent" is defined as "arrival" or "the coming of Christ into the world." For the Roman Catholic Church, we observe four Sundays of advent, in preparation for Christmas.

My 8-year old son Adi has a Little Critter book from way back entitled "I Smell Christmas." It is a short story, filled with scratch-and-sniff stickers, and it talks about how Little Critter's family observes Christmas. There's the scent of pine trees, candy canes, hot cocoa, gingersnap cookies, etc., etc.

Christmas truly is a sensory experience. It is seen, smelled, heard, tasted, and felt. For Pinoys especially, we sense Christmas through very specific situations, practices, and things. So for all Pinoys out there, if you are planning to spend Christmas in the Philippines, rejoice! You can look forward to the following. For those who will be away, re-live your pleasant memories and imagine what you look forward to experiencing again in years to come…

Seeing Christmas. Colorful and bright parols from Pampanga or elsewhere; decorations and Christmas lights galore in homes, malls, and on Ayala Avenue; nicely-wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree; small or life-size Belens reminding us about that very first Christmas; letters addressed to Santa from, all-of-a-sudden, surprisingly well-behaved children; students, employees, and family members practicing their song and dance numbers for Christmas parties; smoke from the "about-to-be-cooked" bibingka; your breath forming in front of your face at night or in the early mornings in Baguio; street vendors with more items to sell; gift lists with inaanaks, relatives, officemates, doctors, friends which seem to just get longer every year.

Smelling Christmas. The smell of pine for those who can still afford or who can still find a real Christmas tree in this day and age; the liquor-y smell of that ever-present fruitcake; the pungent scent of queso de bola; the smell of sweat in crowded stores as you franctically do your last minute shopping.

Hearing Christmas. Christmas carols played in stores and on the radio as early as September; Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit, the one song you can't escape from each and every Christmas; kiddie carolers' "Sa may bahay ang aming bati…" and "Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo, thank you…"; church bells early in the morning reminding you to get up for simbang gabi; Christmas greetings; the laughter of family and friends during Kris Kringle or exchange gifts; dreaded family reunion questions from your older titos and titas or lolos and lolas: "Di ka pa ba mag-aasawa?" "Ano, wala pa bang balita?" "Wala pa bang kasunod?"; it's the crinkle of gift wrappers; the eek-eek of cellophane; the crackle of fresh bills; the sound of incoming text messages one after the other; the clicking of cameras for those Christmas photos; the cheng-cheng of tansans made into improvised musical instruments.

Tasting Christmas. Chokolate e during Noche Buena; ensaymada; queso de bola; hamon; freshly-made bibingka and puto bumbong with melting butter on top; sweet food gifts from various people you know; a blur of family reunions and Christmas parties serving lechon, morcon, etc., etc.

Feeling Christmas. The nights get longer and the early mornings get a wee bit chilly; traffic actually gets worse (as if it were still possible); your clothes get tighter around the waist and your puson; your wallet gets heavy initially from your 13th month pay and lighter all at once with all your expenses; you start getting a mental block at work day in, day out; it takes longer to send and receive snail mail (snail mail nga, ano?).

See, smell, hear, taste, feel Christmas. See God in the Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Smell the blood to be poured out for our salvation. Hear the Lord's message for you in prayer and reflection. Taste and see that the Lord is always good. Feel that God is always near whatever your conditions may be.

Christmas is a time for celebration. It is also a time to share whatever blessings we have with those who may have less in life. So as you enjoy the Pinoy things that come with the season, let us all take time and exert effort to remember the cause for the occasion. "For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life." (John 3: 16 TEV).

Maligayang Pasko sa inyong lahat. Pagpalain tayong lahat ng Panginoon.

And that is December in the Philippines. =)

[By Angelica Viloria | Thursday, December 29, 2005]

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Copyright © 2001-2015 by Angelica Bautista Viloria. All Rights Reserved.

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