Having first visited The Philippines in 1993 and now, having lived here permanently since 2011, I have always been taken by the fervour with which Filipinos embrace the spirit and excitement of Christmas. There is a saying here: once the “ber” months arrive, it is time to start celebrating Christmas. To a New Zealander, even thinking about Christmas prior to December was always an absolute no-no and a subject that should never be raised. Not so here! Here there is an almost childlike excitement, even among the adults, about Christmas and its meaning and importance. Having studied Filipino culture as an “outsider” for a couple of decades now, I think I know part of the reason for this.
Firstly, Christmas, as a religious celebration has much meaning to the majority of Filipinos. Yes, this is a multi-cultural society, with a significant Muslim population, especially in the south of the country, but it is also deeply rooted in the Catholicism brought to these islands by the Spanish invaders in 1565, where the brown-robed Friars held sway over the population, until the Spanish defeat in the Battle of Manila Bay, by the Americans in 1898. Whilst, modern influences may have eroded the power of the Church in the Twenty-First Century, at least nominally, around 90% of the over one hundred million Filipinos profess to be Catholic. This means the Cathedrals and Churches are packed at Christmas time, with the “Simbang Gabi”, being the nine masses prior to Christmas, having an enormous impact. As a religious festival, Christmas still holds much power over these people.
The second main reason for the celebration and indeed the great pleasure Filipinos take from all holidays is it gives them a break from the daily grind of life here. In 2015, it was estimated over 20% of the population lived under the poverty line. This is still a developing country, besieged by corruption in power, and for many Filipinos daily survival for them and their family is their first priority. Holidays offer the opportunity to forget the travails of daily life, to kick back and enjoy the celebration and to do what Filipinos love most; eat and chat. Many Filipinos families may be poor, but they will always share whatever little they have with you, especially at Christmas.
The third reason why Christmas means so much to the Filipinos is family. The extended family unit is the most powerful political and social force in this country. The order of loyalty is as follows, in my opinion: family, barangay, city, province, country. Family comes first… first… first… which may explain the levels of nepotism and corruption in all layers of Government (national and local), for so long. Regardless, Christmas is family time. A time when people flock back from Manila, to the provinces, from overseas (there are an estimated 10 million Filipinos working overseas; OFW’s – Overseas Filipino workers). Christmas is truly a time for family bonding.
If there is one thing that delineates Christmas in Manila from say, New Zealand, it is light – The Christmas lights of The Philippines light up the world. Manila and even the individual houses all over the nation become a profusion of gorgeous, twinkling, Christmas lights (albeit often homemade). It is said, if Santa ever gets lost, he just needs to look to The Philippines to light his way. Christmas here is very different from Christmas back in New Zealand, but, in a good way and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love it!
Grant Leishman is a fifty-nine-year-old full-time author and editor, domiciled in the beautiful islands of The Philippines. After careers in finance and journalism, Grant finally found his true bliss in life – writing. He his happily married to Thess and they have two daughters, Rose and Angeline. You can discover more about Grant on the Mom’s Favorite Reads website here: https://moms-favorite-reads.com/moms-authors/grant-leishman/
Read Free Mom’s Favorite Reads eMagazine December 2018