When we first arrived in Manila, back in the first week of January 2013, we noticed that there were still some Christmas trees up around where we lived. 2 thoughts crossed my mind; either Filipinos love Christmas, or it’s like I’ve seen in other Asian countries where the Christmas decorations just stay up all year round.
It turns out that Filipinos love Christmas. In fact, it appears that whenever there is an event to celebrate (Valentines, Easter, Summer, Halloween), Filipinos really go to town for the celebrations.
But Christmas is the big one. Christmas in the Philippines starts in September. September, October, November & December are referred to as the ‘Ber’ months. Can you see why? Anyhow, if you’re in a ‘Ber’ month it must mean that you’re ready to celebrate Christmas. Back in September Christmas trees and decorations started popping up in shops, Christmas music started playing in the malls and shops… Christmas really was on its way.
For someone like me, who can be a bit Scrooge-like about Christmas, I really tried to ignore it. But as time went on, it became impossible. Every office block has at least 1 Christmas tree in its lobby, and probably exterior decorations too. Some of these trees and decorations are very impressive and very beautiful. Poinsettias started appearing in outdoor spaces – lining staircases or replacing whatever greenery had been in plant pots before. And the music became louder and more pervasive. Christmas street lights were put up on the main road through Makati. The upmarket department stores switched to beautiful Christmas window displays. For some, it was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
Gift giving is a big thing over Christmas. Every employee at the company I work for was given a huge Christmas package filled with food and 4, yes 4, hams. Gifts are given to people who have helped you throughout the year (household staff, condominium staff), to your boss, to your staff if you have staff and of course to friends and family. As it was our first Christmas I was a bit stumped as to what gifts were appropriate for whom. I went for homemade gifts (delicious chocolate brownies, if I do say so myself. In fact the receivers seconded this) for colleagues, a food hamper for our part-time cleaner and a small gift of M&S biscuits for each of the 30 or so staff in the condominium block where we live.
The big day in the Philippines is Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. The feast families share together is called Noche Buena, eaten at around midnight on Christmas Eve. I believe some families will also have a meal together on Christmas Day.
Our Christmas Day meal was taken at the New World Hotel, right next door to where we live. It was an international buffet and the food was pretty good. We gathered with a fairly international crowd to enjoy our meal – a Spaniard, a Swede and a Chinese guy. It was very different from the traditional Christmas meal we have at home, but there weren’t the hours of preparation, nor the dishes to do afterwards! It was also a glorious, sunny day.
Boxing Day was not a holiday in 2013, so sadly it was straight back to work after Christmas. Still, it was an interesting experience to have Christmas in the Philippines and it probably meant that I ate less than is sometimes the case!