Chasing Ghosts of Pinoy Christmas/es Past


Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny. – Tyron Edwards

[ Note : please pause a while and whisper a prayer for our kabayan who were victims of the flashfloods in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities and towns in Bukidnon and Negros Oriental provinces.  Maraming salamat Ka Uro and AKLnzPINOYs for the Carabao to Sheep award-winning migrant self-help volume.  God bless the Philippines ! ]

WE WOULD ANYWAY MISS all things Pinoy and anything that evokes memories of the Philippines, but in every which way the poignancy and void-in-our-hearts become more heart-rending come Christmastime.

Almost every image I hold fast in my mind that is associated with Christmas/New Year stands strong against the sifting sands of time; they will not bend or break with the cobwebs of time or withering memory.  First party, first camping trip, first crush, first heartbreak, first girlfriend, first Simbang Gabi, first trip abroad, first noche buena of one plate of instant pancit canton and a bottle of Coke for two, first noche buena as a dad, first noche buena as an accidental migrant, first noche buena married (again), and so on and so forth…

But whether  happy or not, you can only get so personal with Yuletide reminiscings, because Christmas belongs to all.  Pinoys prepare as early as four months before the actual date of Jesus Christ’s birth, the least we could do is be as happy as happiness allows.  And the way our culture, DNA and disposition is wound up, it seems enjoying Christmas is second nature to us.  Sort of like wired into our system.

Below are some of the things I miss about the Pinoy Christmas experience, because they are so intrinsic to our celebration of the season, and because they make it so easy for us to savor, treasure and resonate said experience in our minds and hearts.

Christmas games we play.  No matter  what group, club, workplace I inhabited or joined, come Christmastime there just had to be Kris Kringle, Secret Santa (exchange gift), paraffle and any other game slash activity that promoted gift-giving.  The mechanics varied, but the goal was to get everyone, even the tightwads and Scrooges, into the spirit of selflessness, thoughtfulness and spontaneous generosity , which was what Christmas was (is) all about.

I remember some guys asking to swap names of their monita (“baby” or gift recipient) just for a chance to get closer to the object of their affection.  Whether or not they actually succeeded with their crush is surely stuff for another story.

Simbang Gabi.  Probably this is the most dramatic and well-loved tradition of the Pinoy Christmas, when the community comes to life in the wee hours of the morning the last nine days before the 25th, to celebrate Holy Mass in a very special way.  All of the aspects of Misa de Gallo like the chilly dawn air, the urgency of everybody just to pencil in the church service at the start of the day, and the feeling of spiritual satisfaction later, make the experience extra special.  The funny thing is among the youth, some who would otherwise avoid religious affairs suddenly find the time to do so, with the chance to enjoy eye candy a side attraction.

Noche Buena.  Its famed gastronomic excess has in recent years been reined in a bit by health consciousness and fiscal restraint, but on the whole no Pinoy Christmas would be complete without the Noche Buena or Christmas dinner.  Consider : Paellas are cholesterol-friendly, relyenos are screened against excess of protein, Crispy pata is carefully trimmed for the fat-averse, and even desserts like leche flan and buko / fruit salad (Pinoy style) are prepared sympathetically for those predisposed to diabetes.  But those normally careful in all that they eat, 364 days of the year, let go just this once on bisperas ng Pasko when unleashing both the appetite and appreciation for good cooking is socially acceptable, this season only.

Family reunions. Who ever heard of Christmas without pamasko and get-togethers, reunions and reconciliations between family members long separated by distance, time and misunderstandings?  Whether it’s just an excuse, an obligation or sticking to tradition, the holidays are a good reason for each character in the clan to do his/her part and greet, hug and say hello to every other relative.

This is regardless of whether you like your kamag-anak or not, and in fact the urgency to socialize and interact with kin rises, the less popular or less acquainted you are with them.  December is probably the only time of the year when you will see them, and that is why social tools like great food and a little bubbly are there, to soften the impact of interpersonal awkwardness.  So kiss that great aunt with the Elizabeth Arden aura, or share an up-close-and-personal moment with the tabako smelling uncle.  You never know if you’ll meet them again next year.

Malls.  In themselves, malls have become self-contained aquariums of Christmas-themed performance art and consumerism.  Everything, from the giant, gorgeous and glittering Christmas decor;  the all-out orgasmic Christmas sales designed to empty your Christmas bonus envelope and get rid of every last item in their inventory; the unstinting bachanalia of food and drink in various food courts, to the unending exodus of shoppers in and out of mall gates is designed to celebrate the two most important aspects of Christmas activity : shopping for others, and shopping for self.  ( That actually adds up to shopping period, but two sounds better than one. )  Everything is calculated to create and expand foot traffic into the gleaming corridors of Megamall, Mall of Asia, Robinsons Malls, G-2, G-3 and G-4, create the primacy of want over need, and the urgency of now over later.

Whether it’s to appease, to impress, to elate, to reward and to acknowledge, the gift is the currency of the season, and is the primordial way to communicate feelings and emotions.  We can’t help it.  Gift-giving, and as a consequence malls, have become as Pinoy as Jollibee and Max’s which incidentally are found on every corner of your favorite mall.  Now, how convenient is that?

***               ***               ***               ***               ***

For sure there are other equally important aspects of Paskong Pinoy, for example the yearly Christmas amusement parks, Christmas caroling, the Christmas long-distance call from OFWs, to name just a few.  But I’ll stop here for now.  I’m sure you get the idea.  Thanks for keeping true to the Pinoy Christmas tradition, wherever in the world you are.  Maligayang Pasko kabayan !

Thanks for reading !

Noel

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7 thoughts on “Chasing Ghosts of Pinoy Christmas/es Past

  1. That was the intended effect Ka Uro. And if I have succeeded on you, then I am truly gratified. Maligayang Pasko kabayan and God bless you for AKLnzPINOY’s good works!!

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