My Three Different Christmas Celebrations in Life
Although Christmas is a few months away, I have decided to write this Hub for every year has it´s own Christmas days. In the Philippines, you have a few months to go for the preparations start on the month of September and the celebrations mostly ended on the end of January. Sometimes the christmas decorations in the cities stay until Valentine´s Day. Philippines is the only catholic country in Asia.
Christmas Tree Decorations
1. My Philippine Christmas
When I was a child I was counting the months and days until Christmas Eve. In September, my mother and my siblings started looking for a certain brunch of a tree. In the 70´s, there were still no plastic Christmas trees sold in the shops and there were no Christmas tree plants at all grown in my country. So everybody just used any good looking brunch of a tree and put it in a bucket full of soil and decorated it with cottons as a symbol of snow. We covered the bucket with Christmas paper. I have not seen snow at that time but through movies in the cinema and through music I knew how it looked like. We hung lots of old Christmas cards that we had from last Christmas. We cut golden and silver papers as tinsel to wrap around the tree.
In the radios, we could hear a lot of Christmas songs, in Tagalog, Visayan and English languages. There were still no television at that time in my town. Then in the evening, we started caroling in almost every houses. When we were finished singing, we received money or any kind of sweets that we loved to eat.Sometimes we were accompanied by our parents. Some parents were having their own group of carolling. They usually went to the houses of the well to do families. They earned much more than us, children.
On the 16th of December, the early advent Sunday masses started which is at 5 o´clock in the morning. It´s like a nine days novenas until Christmas. Although it´s very early, young and old people were visiting the mass. It´s the time where friends, families and lovers spent their time together. Filipinos are very religious people. Around 83% of the Filipinos are catholics. After celebrating the mass they went to the market to have some coffee, chocolate and some traditional sweets like suman (glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk and sugar, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed), bibingka (rice cake baked in a clay pot and lined with banana leaf) for breakfast or they just go directly to their respective homes. Some of them went to the open market which are always on Sundays where the farmers from the barrios went to town to sell their products. The products are all cheaper than usually sold in the market.
A few days before Christmas Eve, my mother was planning what kind of food she was going to make. Every member of my family was suggesting what we would like to have for Noche Buena (a dinner after the midnight mass). Some suggested Suman, Bibingka, Pancit (fried noodles with pork, beef or chicken meat with vegetables), chicken salad or lechon if we had enough money to buy the pig. Lechon is a whole pig roasted on an open fire. It is very delicious! Big celebrations like wedding was and is always served with Lechon.
On Christmas Eve, we were busy preparing the food for dinner. My mother was the cook for she cooked very well and we children were only allowed to clean and chop the vegetables. My father´s duty was to bring water and firewood's into the kitchen for cooking. We cooked in our "dirty" kitchen. As we did not have electricity yet at that time, we used Petromax to make our house bright. Petromax is a kind of lamp with kerosene and had to be pumped first before it gives light.
Then before dinner my grandparents, aunts and uncles came for the celebration. We started dancing with the music from our record player. The music of Mabuhay Singers, Pilita Corales and other national singers. We listened to the english Christmas music as well, like Santa Claus is Coming to Town or Hark the Herald Angels Singing....My uncles, who were great dancers taught me how to dance Tango and Cha Cha Cha. My mother and aunties were still very busy but happy talking to each other while preparing the table for our dinner. The older men as usual, were on our balcony talking and drinking their beers or tuba (wine unfermented from the coconut tree).
Everybody was having fun eating around the table with the food they could only eat on a special occasion. Those who had no more seats at the table were sitting on the living room couch or chair with the food on their laps. The men were getting louder and louder due to the raising amount of alcohol they were drinking. We children, were listening to what the adults were talking about. It was the time we could sit and listen to them without being sent to the room. On a "normal" day, children were not allowed to listen to what the adult were talking about. We were sent to the room for it´s not our business and it´s unpolite listening to them. So what we did on those "normal" days, we were hiding and listening behind the curtains when a visitor came and having conversation with my parents.
As the dinner came to an end, the women as always, were clearing the table and washing the dishes after our meal. Me and my siblings were having fun listening. It was not a custom to every parents to give Christmas gifts to their children on Christmas. They just bought new clothes and new shoes for them to wear on going to church for the feast. So most of the people who went to the midnight mass were wearing new clothes. There´s a saying in the Philippines that there´s no Christmas for them when there´s no new dress to wear.
After dinner and clearing up the table, we gathered together in the living room and sung Christmas songs. In between, we were dancing and laughing. We just enjoyed the hours until the time came for us to go to church for the Mesa de Gallo.
There were some children and adults caroling outside our house. We gave them money and some sweets to eat. Some of the adults were making fireworks out of bamboo filled with cloth dunk in kerosene and it made a lot of noise. Firecrackers were not yet popular at that time in our place.
At ten o´clock in the evening we walked to our church which was only two blocks away from our house. Yes, it was early for a midnight mass but we wanted to have a seat to sit. The church was half full when we arrived there. We saw happy faces waiting for the birth of a child in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was so far but it seems very near to us. The mass was very joyful and lively as it should be for welcoming a child of heaven. After the mass, we went home and continued our feast of joy. Drinking, eating, laughing, talking and dancing until dawn.
On the next day, everybody was tired due to lack of sleep. Breakfast was served with the leftovers from last night with fried rice or Arroz A La Valenciana (special fried rice with different kinds of meat), Chorizo (spanish sausage) and vegetables. The drinks were chocolate, salabat (ginger tea) and coffee.
The rest of the day was for visiting the relatives. Some relatives came to us and asking my parents about Pinaskohan ( Christmas gift). Godchildren went to visit their Godparents for the same reason. It´s Christmas time, giving time...
Christmas Cookies, Spekulatius
2. My German Christmas
Celebrating Christmas in Germany is also fun and stressful. The Germans starts celebrating the Christmas season on the first advent Sunday and that is usually the last Sunday of November. One week before the first advent, the Germans are preparing the decorations for their windows, doors and inside the house. Most of them are baking Christmas cookies like Spekulatius, Vanillakipferl and other delicious cookies. Those who have children enjoy baking with their kids. They make beautiful gingerbread house with lots of sweets as the roof.
Me on my part was combining the Philippine and German Christmas. I decorated the house a few days before the first advent. Different kinds of cookies were made on that day. Because I wanted the whole fun of baking on one afternoon until evening, so I made more than 200 pieces of peanut butter, coconut, vanilla and hazelnut cookies. So on another day I decorated them all with icing sugar. I served them to our guests and distributed them to friends who have children.
Most of the Germans decorate their `Tannenbaum´ (Christmas tree) on the 24th of December. The whole day they are in stress for they also have to cook the dinner for the evening. Parents who have small children locked their living room where the gifts under the Christmas tree are located. They wanted to surprise their kids.
On the Holy Eve, I used to make Philippine and German food. The Christmas tree and gingerbread house were decorated together with my hubby and child, a week before and there was no hectic at all for me. I only had to cook the dinner which was sometimes potatoes or noodles with meat and vegetables. For dessert, I made Suman, Bibingka or Biko (brown glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk and brown sugar). Without this desert, there´s no Christmas feeling for me. That´s weird but it is like that to me. After our dinner, gifts were distributed to each other. Listening to a Christmas music while playing cards or any other games until time for us to go to mass which is at 10 pm.
Compared to my Philippine celebration, the German one is a quiet one. It´s really a silent and holy night. No loud music and no dancing at all. It is usually celebrated for a "single" family like only the parents and their children. The 24th is the most important for all especially to the kids. who can receive their gifts after dinner. On the 25th is the so called first and on the 26th is the second Christmas, where grandparents and their children are visiting each other.
Christmas Market in Germany
3. My Irish Christmas
When my hubby and I were living in Ireland, we spent two christmas without my family at all. It was only me and my hubby. But still we celebrated the mixture of Philippine, German and Irish Celebration. It was like picking the good things we learned from these three countries.
I felt home in Ireland during that Christmas for there are lots of parallel things between Ireland and the Philippines. The Irish are friendly people. They go to church with their small children and celebrate t he mass with their parents. The children don´t have to go to a separate mass like in Germany. The mass and the songs in the church are lively and in english just the way I used to have in my home country. The songs are sung in a happy and jolly mode. The thing that amaze me most was that during the mass, the women just left their wallets and bags on the bench where they sit. Their bags were still there on their respected seat. Nothing was stolen. I was embarrassed for I was the only one who was carrying bag during communion.
As what I have said, Irish are friendly and generous people. I was accepted in the community and I did not feel any kind of discrimination whatsoever. During the yuletide period, we received a lot of gifts and cards from our neighbourhood. Even from our landlord and our landlady. Some of the cards were even delivered by the post although the sender just lives a few meters away from our house. I was so impressed. It did not happen to us before in Germany.
I asked somebody I know, when the people start to decorate their homes for Christmas, for it was already the 2nd advent but I have not seen a house decorated. I was told that they start sometimes on the 15th of December. And so it was. I did the same, but there was lacking. Who would eat my cookies/ cakes/ gingerbread house if I ever make them? And so I thought to bake for my neighbours as a response for their kindness.
The Irish people celebrate Christmas on the 25th but we did on the 24th as we used to. It was a very quiet celebration with only the two of us. Dinner with German food and Philippine dessert and every now and then interruption due to telephone calls from the relatives on the continent and my home country. One of our neighbours visited us on the 25th. We were happy for that, a change in our quiet and relaxed life. We went to their house after that and drinks were served...until one of us got drunk....
If you were me, which Christmas celebration will you choose?
Hubs By The Same Author
- Tips For Emigration
This article is about my experiences in emigrating to europe in 1980´s and how I coped with the different climate, food, customs and tradition of my adopted country Germany.
- Gihaw-an, My Childhood River
Gihaw-an, My Childhood River is about the memories of my happy childhood in the Philippines. It is about how the people did their washing without washing machine.
© 2011 Thelma Alberts