I’ll let you in on a little secret.
Yesterday, I put Hark the Herald Angels Sing on replay on Youtube. I loved that song, and I was trying to catch the keyboard rhythm patterns so that I could start practicing, and play it for Christmas. But after 20-something replays, it’s embarassing to say, but I cried my eyes out. I miss home.
Perhaps I had been binge-watching Hallmark Christmas movies and listening to Christmas Songs a little too early and a little too much that I got a little carried away.
Working overseas makes the Christmas holidays somewhat melancholic. At least for me. Or maybe for all Overseas Filipino Wokers (OFWs). Depression kicks in when “Ber” months (September, October, November, and December) come. We (or perhaps only I) become nostalgic.
Why too early?
Christmas Season in the Philippines Starts in September
The Philippines is the country that celebrates the longest Christmas in the world.
For one thing, we are a Christian country. An estimated 92.5% of Filipinos are Christians according to Stanford University. We may have no snow nor white Santas, but Christmas in the Philippines is more ‘Christmassy’ than anywhere else in the world. (At least to us.)
Christmas traditions are deeply rooted in our culture and to say that Christmas is “big” is an understatement in itself. It is grand. Here are the traditions passed down through the generations:
- Simbang Gabi
Simbang Gabi or “Midnight Mass” is a series of Catholic masses held over nine nights before Christmas. Devotees believe that if you make a wish and attend the masses without fail, your wish will come true.
2. Noche Buena
The night before Christmas, families gather together to share a festive meal or Noche Buena. They also play games, give gifts, and take family pictures.
3. Christmas Parties
Parties are held in schools, churches, work/offices, alumni homecomings, and family reunions. There’s dancing, karaokes, kris kringles, and hearty meals.
There are constant carolings as early as September, and it is somewhat abused. Most of the carolers are kids making caroling an excuse to beg for money, albeit courteously, but it adds a more Christmas feel nevertheless. And they have beautiful voices, too.
Filipinos decorate Christmas trees and put up Christmas lights everywhere too soon, too. We also handcraft some of our decorations, one of which is the famous Parol, an ornamental star lantern (symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem). These lanterns are hung outside houses or buildings. Some schools and communities have parol-making contests where entrants bring in their most artistic handcrafted parols.
6. Where are you, Ninongs and Ninangs?
Ninongs (godfathers) and Ninangs (godmothers) serve as real-life Santa Claus during Christmas — they give presents or cash. It’s not a compulsory thing but, where can they hide? (Pun intended)
Christmas Away From Home
For all these fun-filled festivities that OFWs miss, you’d understand why we long for home during the “Ber” months. We can only virtually celebrate it with our loved ones back home. We do have Christmas parties abroad though, but it’s a far cry.
In my case, what adds to the loneliness is perhaps because Singapore doesn’t celebrate Christmas as fanatically as we do.
So, to experience that Christmas spirit, I make up by watching Hallmark Christmas movies and listening to Christmas songs.
Christmas During the Pandemic
I may be away from home, but I'm aware that the pandemic has impacted our Christmas traditions back home. People can no longer gather in big groups. What used to be big Christmas parties can now only be celebrated virtually.
There are those who lost a loved one to Coronavirus this year. And my heart goes out to them. I pray that they will experience the comfort of the One whom we are celebrating Christmas for — Jesus. May we keep our focus on Him during this season.
As for me who is far away from home for yet another Christmas holidays, as ridiculous as it might sound, but too many Hallmark Christmas movies is never too many. For now.
Have a Merry Christmas in Advance!