You think Christmas in the Philippines is all celebration? Think again. Its a lot more than what you really think. The Holidays is a tough season. May not look so for everyone, and many wouldn't really mind. Perhaps because its a time when everyone thinks of happy thoughts, feeling good about everything around and when everybody is "nicer." All I could think of is the word "magical" in this context. Why people feel good? Maybe that's really the miracle.
But no matter how magical things may be, you may need to read on for some challenges that lay ahead. Here's a guide how to survive a Filipino Christmas...at home.
Decorations. This is the first of the many things you have to take care of during the season. As early as the entrance of the "-ber" months (September-December), it is acceptable to put up Christmas decorations already. It is during these months that Christmas items are being put up on sale. Go around Divisoria towards the end of September, you won't miss the decorations peddled.
But there is an unspoken rule being followed in the Filipino Culture that most homes would put up decorations right after "Undas" in respect to the dead. You would notice that after the feasts, houses start to come alive with Christmas lights, parols, and other decorations. The grooming of the house for Christmas isn't a waste because the Philippines celebrate Christmas until January. Sometimes, the decors stay up until next year when people get lazy of taking it down.
Carollers. You have got to be ready for them. They're out to sing songs and wish you a Merry Christmas for a few loose change. Beautiful isn't it? Children go house to house singing along makeshift drums and tamborines. Sometimes their chorus of voices sounds much better and fit for the season than those who sing really well. After all, the season of Christmas is felt more by the children.
Don't drive them away. Have plenty of coins in the house, or maybe some candies instead of money. My family always have something ready to give away and its always a pleasure hearing their thanks in a song "teenk-yu! teeeeenk-yu! ambabait ninyo, tenk-yu!"
Namamasko. Its a short way of asking for a gift from Ninongs and Ninangs. Parents and children would visit their godparents and/or grandparents for their gifts. Because we are very responsible and very close to our inaanak, instead of giving them gifts like puzzles, building blocks, art materials and other brain stimulating stuff, we give them cash instead.
When I was young, I used to wonder why so many of my relatives instead of giving gift wrapped stuff, they hand over crisp bills that smell really good. It really is no problem with me, its the best thing to get during Christmas. I can get whatever I want. Practical right? And it saves paper because there's no need for wrappers. If you're thinking of handing cash, exchange your bills at the banks for smaller and newer ones.
Household Bills. This is something that really gets overlooked during the Christmas season. Everyone isn't really mindful but it is during the Holidays that the highest consumption of everything occurs, including household bills. Electricity, phone, and others significantly shoots up. The only thing that doesn't get a very high marginal difference is the water bills, because its cold and people are avoiding the showers.
You can help conserve energy and money by being mindful. Start by turning off lights and decors when its late already. Stop using air-conditioning, its cold already. Go figure out what else you can do.
Noche Buena. This is the peak of the Christmas in the Philippines. For us Filipinos, it is the height of all celebrations of the year. On the eve of Christmas, the family will gather together at the table to enjoy a feast. Gathering the family alone is quite a challenge already, what more the other things to do for a great Noche Buena.
The kitchen will be busy the whole day. Plan the menu ahead and buy in advance less perishable items. Purchase only what is needed fresh on the day of Christmas eve as prices of everything that can be bought shoots up. Fruits, meats, vegetables and others become expensive. On top of all these things, almost everyone is doing last minute shopping so if you're agoraphobic, its not a good idea to be at a market or supermarket before Noche Buena.
Christmas season is very festive here in the Philippines. Surviving a Filipino Christmas at home is just a fraction of what else goes on outside. Part 2 of the Survival Guide is here.