Christmas carols and countdowns starting the very first day of September. Holiday decorations everywhere you go: lanterns, twinkling lights and for me personally, a Christmas tree that was already up by the time I celebrate my birthday in the middle of November. Even smells coming from traditional holiday rice cakes, puto bumbong and bibingka, remind you of the season. Everyone looks forward to simbang gabi or nine mornings, midnight masses where friends and family all try to wake up early and complete all nine masses, and if you do, a blessing is believed to come your way.
The Philippines has what is said to be the longest Christmas celebration in the world, beginning in September through the Feast of the Three Kings, January 6th. It’s one of the things I miss the most about the holidays — the anticipation for the most joyous time of the year.
When I first moved to the US, not yet hearing holiday songs on the radio and seeing decors when they were already having daily countdowns in the Philippines made me feel extremely homesick. (The one sign that Christmas was coming was the extremely cold weather — I love the cold weather, white Christmases are one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.)
I then learned of course of the cultural significance of Thanksgiving (not having this holiday in the Philippines), and the reason why Christmas doesn’t officially begin until after this holiday. It is always interesting how different cultures have different traditions, and dedicating one day to be mindful of what we should all be thankful for is one of the best ones. If there is one thing in common about these holidays, it is family gathering and how everyone makes every effort to come home and be together.
I remember growing up not being able to sleep the night before Christmas, a few hours before noche buena, or the 12 midnight family Christmas dinner. Smelling the barbecue my grandfather is grilling right outside my window, anticipating what my cousins and I will be getting from Santa that year. Most importantly, we anticipated seeing everyone around my grandmother’s dining room table to eat the delicious feast she prepared, hearing the excited chatter and holiday greetings.
I don’t get as homesick anymore. Christmas in the states, albeit different, has the same things I loved growing up. Time with loved ones, the spirit of giving and remembering why we celebrate in the first place. It is also a bonus learning to embrace new traditions: pecan pies, Rockefeller Center, snowy Christmases. I have come to learn that it isn’t really where you are, you carry the joy of the holiday with you in your heart.
Someday, I would love to spend Christmases in other countries as well, to learn about how they spend this wondrous holiday.
Happy Holidays to everyone around the world, may you spend it with those most special to your heart this year and always.