Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Surviving Christmas in the Philippines 2

From Pinoy Lifestyle
On my previous article, my last words were "Surviving a Filipino Christmas at home is just a fraction of what else goes on outside." Damn right that is! When its Christmas time in the Philippines, it is an adventure to go out. In the center of cities when its night rush hour, you get the hustle of people and the bright lights all around. Go sub-urban, the peaceful flickering of Christmas lights and parols mesmerize anyone passing by. Welcome to a guide to surviving Christmas in the Philippines as a Filipino would do.

 Misa de Gallo. Also known as "Simbang Gabi," this age old tradition is a 9-day Novena mass in anticipation of Christmas Day. Some churches celebrate mass during evenings, but most still do it traditionally before dawn. Surprisingly, many would still flock the churches as Christmas vacation had already begun. Tips? All you need is an alarm clock to help you wake up, toothbrush and toothpaste so your companions will sit with you and a few cousins or friends who'd force you out of bed.

It has been  said that if one completes the 9 days masses, you'd get what you've been wishing for. Honestly, I've never completed 9 days, so I cannot tell if you if that is true. But one thing I know is true. Breakfast after simbang gabi is really awesome.

Photo by DocDidoy. Someone ate half of the puto bumbong
Christmas Food. Start off with food outside churches after Misa de Gallo. You won't have trouble finding the vendors. Look where people flock, you will find bibinka and puto-bumbong. They're a stand out among others during the holiday season and they make a superb breakfast, especially if traditionally made. Bibingka is traditionally made from rice flour, baked in a pottery and banana leaves by heating on the bottom and the top. Puto-bumbong on the other hand, is sticky purple-ish rice flour steamed in bamboo tubes and eaten with "kinudkod na niyog" and muscovado. Both are blockbusters and very affordable. Match them with tsokolate drink or salabat, you got yourself an after-simbang-gabi-breakfast traditional style.

Photo from Southeast Star
I haven't forgotten about castanas or chestnuts. You know Christmas is near when these brown nuggets are being cooked in huge pans half filled with small pebbles for an even roast. Why is it so? Perhaps because it is not available all year round or maybe its too expensive and its only in Christmas that we have spare money for such treats. On my opinion, it doesn't have too much difference in taste versus kamote. The castanas is just firmer and chewier than kamote because the latter just melts in your mouth. So why spend for something expensive? People would. Because being seen eating kamote makes you look poor, being seen eating castanas means you have lots of money.

Christmas Sale. If you've seen castanas being cooked, chances are you're in a public place and a bigger chance you're near a mall. Many Filipinos flock to the malls during the Christmas season (don't we always go regardless of the season?). There's a shop till you drop syndrome every December because of fat paychecks that happens only once a year for a lot of Pinoys. Never get caught up with this fever and don't be mislead. By all means do your Christmas shopping for gifts earlier than the 2nd week of December. It will save you from traffic, no parking space, too many people, buying the display since its the last pair, and the list goes on. Of course, there are alternatives.

Bazaars. Many flea markets have been sprouting all over the place. Its good choice to do some quick Christmas buys, only you have to know when and where they would appear. Here is where you can find great buys from budding entrepreneurs, backyard businesses and some fly-by-night suppliers. One should be a smart buyer and knows how to haggle. The rule here is "what you see is what you get." Be very careful on purchasing edible items unless cooked in front of you. For non-perishable goods, always check every inch of what you're buying until you're satisfied of its quality, you may never get a chance to return it and get a replacement.

Christmas Parties. I used plural form, intentionally. A regular Pinoy goes to at least 3 Christmas Parties during the Holidays. I won't go counting how many because it is quite overwhelming. There's a work Christmas party, an association Christmas party, a parish Christmas party, a close friends Christmas party, a closer friends Christmas party, a Christmas party with former classmates in elementary, high school and college, Christmas party with cousins, Christmas party with relatives on mother's side, Christmas party with relatives on father's side, and the list goes on. Exhausting? Many Filipinos would say it is exhilarating.

The Filipino Culture is a very festive one. We never grow tired of having fun, having a good time, spending time with our the people we work with, our family and friends. The Christmas Season is the peak of it all. But that doesn't mean that the fun all goes down once Christmas ends. We live up to the reputation of the longest celebration of Christmas, and welcoming the New Year is still part of the celebration.

In closing, there could be some not so good things about the Christmas season in the Philippines like greedy taxi drivers choosing passengers and destination, the occasional rogue bandits and the maddening traffic. They are part of reality, but only a small part. The bigger part of reality is that Christmas here in the Philippines is a happy one, in fact, happier than any part of the world.

Foreign people say we love to smile. Of course. We have every reason to do so. Whole year round, we've got reasons...especially during Christmas time.