Christmas in Pampanga - What Can We Do for the Community This Christmas?
We spent this Christmas in the Philippines. In a nation that celebrates Christmas for a quarter of the year and believes that it’s a time for the children to enjoy, it was the perfect opportunity to embrace the unique Christmas spirit of the Philippines and give to a local community that doesn’t have much.
We’re fortunate to be able to put food on the Christmas table (complete with 12 fruits), as well as exchange presents with our family. The children of Marimar in Sapang Biabas, a barangay of Mabalacat in Pampanga, usually rely on their singing voices to get their Christmas wishes. Without many (if any) gifts to exchange, the kids go house to house carolling. If they’re lucky, they will be given a coin for their efforts. This year was a bit different. This year, Santa came to town. Skip to Giving Back.
How does the Philippines Celebrate Christmas?
How is Christmas celebrated in the Philippines? For a long time. Unlike their South East Asian neighbours, nearly the entire population of the Philippines is Christian, a legacy left by the Spaniards that invaded the islands in the 16th century. So, Christmas is a big deal - even bigger than the Miss Universe competition that follows shortly after.
To prove their love of Christmas to the rest of the world, celebrations start in the “’Ber months”, that is, from September. From September 1st, you can hear Christmas carols in shopping centres and blasting from people’s homes. The national news will announce how many days are left until the 25th of December at the end of every broadcast, Christmas decorations are up in public places and the unmistakable glow of parols can be seen at night, frantically flashing their colourful lights like a disco.
Many Filipino households will have the manger scene with Joseph (/jo sep/), Mary, baby Jesus and the three Wise Men. Recycling is made a priority as plastic soft drink bottles are repurposed into Christmas trees and stars. School kids come home from class Christmas parties with their exchange gifts and containers of extra food are exchanged between neighbours.
Photo by: China D @projectgoals.ph
In addition to the traditional Western Christmas carols that the world is familiar with, the Philippines has a rich catalogue of their own, with Christmas lyrics in Tagalog as well as various other native dialects from around the archipelago. Old Filipino favourites like Ang Pasko ay Sumapit, Star ng Pasko and Christmas in Our Hearts are played and sung by all. And throughout the festive season, Jose Mari Chan has a massive smile that never leaves his face.
When Christmas Eve finally arrives, Filipinos will be with their families, eating, drinking, singing on a hired videoke machine (theirs or their neighbour’s) until the early hours of Christmas Day. If they can afford them, gifts will also be exchanged as well as food cooked by the household – spaghetti in sweet tomato sauce, lumpia, pancit and biko are popular.
The one thing I have come to realise from spending time in different places during Christmas is that it’s a deeply personal thing. Although the same Christian holiday is celebrated in many countries spanning nearly all corners of the globe, it means something different to each of those corners – indeed to each individual. Generally, for an individual, Christmas is however they spent their time celebrating it as a kid. I suppose that’s because it was something magical then. How else do you explain a character like Santa and all he accomplishes in just one night without referring to magic?
As we grow older, the magic part disappears as reality is revealed. But the childhood memories remain, including the incredible feeling that only Christmas could bring. There is a desire to recreate that feeling as an adult and so Christmas to each of us is whatever it was to us as children. Collectively, it’s a magical feeling that we share with our nearest and dearest once a year, every year. So, no matter how or where it is celebrated, no matter the local custom or traditions, Christmas invokes something special deep inside us that manifests itself in joy, generosity and love.
Giving Back – Ang Pasko ay Sumapit
Filipinos are generous, even if they don’t have much for themselves let alone to give away. They won’t hesitate to invite you to sit in their house, eat their food and take some more home for later. It is deeply ingrained in their culture to give not just to their own family, but to all. So, this Christmas, it was a pleasure to dress up as Santa and give a little back to our local community.
On Christmas morning, as the kids were gathering on the narrow road of Sitio Marimar ready to walk from house to house and sing for a few pesos, we prepared gift bags full of sweets, chocolate and new money.
Photo by: China D @projectgoals.ph
China decorated our ebike with tinsel so it could double as a Filipino sleigh. Sensing that something was happening in our house, the kids began to gather outside the gates, asking one of Santa’s helpers (one of our kids) what was going on as she lined the gift bags beside the sleigh. Soon, a crowd of children big and small had assembled, all waiting excitedly for Santa to arrive.
Behind the scenes in our house, we had to come up with a last-minute beard thanks to the dodgy nature of the one that came with the Santa suit we’d bought. Finally, as the excitement was coursing through the kids of Marimar, Santa emerged from behind the sliding door with his red hat and adorned with a silver beard made of tinsel.
“Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!”
The kids had huge smiles, as did their parents who had also gathered to see what was happening this Christmas morning. Through toothy grins they pointed and said, “It’s Santa!”
“Ate Sarah?”. I heard one of the neighbourhood kids who knows me because his family are friends of ours. “No! It is Santa, ho ho ho!”. I think I covered pretty well.
It didn’t matter that I wasn’t really Santa, that our 7 kids weren’t really elves, that the ebike wasn’t a sleigh or that the costume opened in all the wrong places. The Christmas spirit created by making a small gesture was the thing that really mattered - it was something that money could not buy. Just making this gesture had made the Christmas morning of a neighbourhood that doesn’t usually have anything to receive Christmas mornings.
If even for just a moment, it brought the small community together. Although this particular community project was aimed towards the children, it touched everyone. I could see it in the eyes of parents as they urged their little ones to grab Santa’s hand and mana po before receiving their small gift. They too were so happy. It is truly in the little things that big things grow.