What’s Christmas in the Philippines? It almost seems like it is more worth saying what Christmas is not. I certainly is not about snow or hanging the socks over the mantle place since there are no chimneys in the Philippines.
Christmas first of all is about carolling. The children are out to make money. They come by with any kind of home made instrument and bang it while they sing off-key, perhaps 2 -6 children at a time. It is more like Halloween. This can begin a week or more before Christmas. Beware if you give more then a few pesos word will go out that there is a big giver in the neighbourhood. The adults are into it as well, but they are better organized and often not doing it purely for money as are the children. Sometimes you can be pleasantly serenaded by 6 or 7 adults with semi-professional instruments as they roam from house to house. They will sing a few songs, they you give them their just due and they end up with a thank you serenade.
Christmas eve is a time for partying for the most part. This Christmas I was invited by my friends Paul and Lilly to their house. Their older children had returned to the homestead for the holidays as do many of the families and members thereof. Of course the kids were out to see their friends and were long gone while we had a simple Christmas meal of fish and rice and a few goodies. I brought a bottle of Ginebra Gin, about a fifth for 65 pesos. With that I got some pineapple mix and used a blender with some ice to make frosty drinks for everyone. Normally people eat or watch TV or go to the neighbourhood disco, with the big event, Noche Buena commencing at midnight. This even ushers in the Christmas. Of course being a Catholic country, many people go to mass and for sure midnight mass is a big event. Even midnight mass though usually takes into account Noche Buena. Everyone goes home about midnight for spaghetti and pancit with white bread. A strange custom, indeed and I have yet to figure out the significance of these foods. Meanwhile many people are drinking up to this point and the evening is often topped off with home grown fireworks displays by the children.
A little aside here. Christmas is probably the worst time to book a flight to the Philippines. So many Filipinos are trying to get home that most flights are booked and are much more expensive then ordinary fares.
Christmas day is celebrated with a meal, usually lunch is taken together with the family. The exchange of presents does not occur for most families; they just cannot afford the presents. The wealthier families will do a present exchange. My woman’s family just left. They arrived Christmas day at 11 AM. I gave Richel money and told her to go and buy whatever she wanted. For me fish would have been ok or honestly I will eat just about anything. She went to the market and bought chicken, a real treat. Keep in mind that the average (real poor) family in the Philippines rarely has meat. Pork is the preferred meat and is eaten for most holidays if the family can afford it. If there is any amount of money, the family will buy a whole pig and roast it, lechon. That is the biggest treat for Filipinos for a birthday, marriage, any kind of ceremony. If you are coming here to court a young lady be prepared, when the nuptials are celebrated, pork lechon will certainly be on the menu.
The meal is pretty simple. We had chicken soup served over the inevitable rice dish. Never will you have bowl of soup. A bowl of soup is placed on the table and is to be shared with the family. Rice is served on everyone’s plate and you will scoop out some of the soup and whatever is floating in it to be placed on your rice dish.
So our meal consisted of servings of chicken soup placed on the table scooped into our rice. We also had fried banana and we topped the dinner off with watermelon. This is a feast for the average Filipino family.