Memories of a Filipino Christmas

Clement Clarke Moore couldn’t have been more wrong with the opening lines for his poem A Visit From St. Nicholas about Christmas Eve preparations, at least for Filipinos when he wrote: “’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”.

If your household is anything like a typical Filipino family, then you would know that Christmas Eve preparations start around the month of November with the process of unboxing and mounting of Christmas themed décor from Star Shaped lanterns, Christmas lights, Santa-themed table runners and the ever present Christmas pine tree complete with filigrees from top to bottom.

The air in a typically Filipino household around this time would be filled with preparations here and there, from the baking of Fruitcakes for giveaways, the wrapping of gifts for loved ones and all the while Christmas music would be playing in the background as a reminder that indeed the Filipino people’s favorite holiday is just around the corner.

My favorite part of the season would be the week leading up to Christmas Eve. Our house would smell like a bakery as my mom would be baking cakes and pies of all sorts and sizes from traditional fruit cakes with various glazed fruits to apple, cherry and blue berry pies that would be set on the table every night.

Dad’s coffee grinder and roaster would be at work almost non-stop to accommodate the coffee needs of our visitors on a daily basis. Our day would start quite later than usual as we would just be sleeping in until 2 hours before lunch time but would end much later than necessary.

A week leading up to Christmas would be filled by countless visits from family friends baring gifts to long lost cousins hoping to be bestowed with gifts. And along with that, food that would seemingly just appear to be flowing out of the kitchen.

Nights would be spent roaming the numerous malls of Metro Manila or perhaps taking in the sights and sounds of the City Streets that would now be bedecked with lights and star-shaped lanterns known as Parols. Along the side streets the typical Christmas-themed street food would be popping up in food carts called karitons and peddled to people of all ages.

A good percentage of Filipinos are devout Roman-Catholics, and alongside the traditional Masses, a special series of masses would be observed called the Simbang Gabi, which is a bit of a misnomer since the words simbang gabi means night mass but is most often celebrated from early morning, everyday for nine days from the 16th of December towards the 24th, except that on the 24th the mass is celebrated at night, which is called Misa de Gallo.

The peak of this celebration would be the evening of the 24th of December. I could still recall my mother being busy in the kitchen, perched over a hot stove preparing what is called a Noche Buena feast (a midnight feast) to be enjoyed by close friends of the family that would be visiting that night. Anywhere from 10 to 15 dishes would be prepared for that evening. My dad would be busy wrapping up gifts and placing them under our fully decked out Christmas tree that I helped decorate. I would constantly be refilling a big bowl of candies that would be positioned right outside our gate for carolers or passers by. And from then onwards it would just be a waiting game til the clock strikes 12 midnight and we can partake of the Noche Buena feast and open our gifts as a family.

Nothing brings family close together like Christmas!

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