Overseas Filipinos Coming Home to Christmas in the Philippines

Festive Traditions: How Filipino Communities Greet OFWs Returning for Christmas

Image source: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2019/12/15/simbang-gabi-the-christmas-academy/
Image source: https://baclaranphenomenon.wordpress.com/2019/12/15/simbang-gabi-the-christmas-academy/

In the Philippines, Christmas carols fill the air even before the breeze of the colder monsoon could signify the start of the yuletide season. As early as September, you can already hear the overlapping holiday tunes of Jose Marie Chan and Mariah Carey wherever you go.

Months before the actual holiday, you will already see Christmas lights and other decorations adorning malls and other public spaces. Some would even have their giant Christmas tree put up even before Halloween.

Undoubtedly, the Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world, and it is celebrated by most of its population. This extended holiday cheer is precisely what makes overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) come home and spend their holidays in the country.

Here, Christmas is a community event. Holidays here are quite synonymous with social events and family gatherings that last through the entire month of December and early January.

While a White Christmas has its appeal, no amount of snow can possibly replace the spirit of a Filipino Christmas. To make their stay back home worthwhile, family members of OFWs fill the holidays with beloved traditions that they can all celebrate together as a family and as a community.

Common traditions and Celebrations of Filipinos coming home to Christmas in the Philippines

OFWs coming home for the holiday season means a merry Christmas celebration for their families. Here are the common traditions that make Christmas in the Philippines special and memorable for OFWs.

Family reunions

For dedicated OFWs, reuniting with their family members is the highlight of their homecoming, and this becomes an instant celebration in Filipino households. To make this time memorable, Filipinos love to hold reunions that include the farthest extended family they can get in touch with.

This makes Christmas Day a heartwarming celebration as everyone gathers under one roof, shares stories, and enjoys the food. It is also an opportunity for OFWs to catch up with relatives and create new memories they can look back on when they are away.

The warmth in remembrance of family time becomes one of the greatest gifts for these OFWs. Though the holiday memories are not substitutes, they can alleviate the homesickness from thousands of miles away.

Image taken by Tyler Nix, from Unsplash
Image taken by Tyler Nix, from Unsplash

Family vacation

OFWs spend months or years away from their families whom they are working hard for. The holiday season, therefore, is an opportunity for them to spend Christmas in a more memorable way with their loved ones. As such, it is common for families to embark on vacations to add excitement and adventure to traditional festivities.

Indeed, the joy of celebrating Christmas is magnified by the enchanting backdrop of travel. By visiting destinations, families can immerse themselves in diverse cultures, festive traditions, and the sheer magic of the season.

Whether it is a beach retreat, a mountain escapade, or a cultural exploration, the shared adventures become treasured chapters in the family’s collective story. This way, OFWs and their families can create enduring memories that transcend geographical distances.

Giving back to the community

Christmas holds a profound meaning for Filipinos that extends beyond the confines of immediate families to include the entire community. One heartwarming tradition that deeply resonates with Filipinos, especially OFWs, is the act of giving back to celebrate Christmas.

Some OFWs make it a priority to share the joy of the season by giving out Christmas gifts and engaging in charitable endeavors within their communities. For these dedicated individuals, gift-giving is paying it forward and a heartfelt expression of gratitude.

Whether it is organizing community events, donating essentials to those in need, or participating in local initiatives, OFWs find fulfillment in contributing to the well-being of others during this holiday season.

Attending the Simbang Gabi

More than a merriment, Christmas in the Philippines is also spiritual celebration. Aside from the tunes and the parols, one way to know Christmas is near is by the gathering in the churches for the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi.

For nine consecutive days leading up to Christmas Eve, Filipinos, especially the Roman Catholics attend the midnight mass or dawn mass in the hopes of having their wish granted or simply to give thanks. Though other countries also have their versions of these masses, simbang gabi in the Philippines is differentiated by the traditions surrounding it. Churches, for instance, glow with the bright lights of parol and fairy lights. Additionally, they would always have a belen, the nativity scene with Baby Jesus at the center.

That said, simbang gabi is one of the many Filipino Christmas traditions that make OFWs truly feel at home for the holidays. Usually held in the early hours of the morning, these nine masses are part of every Catholic Filipino family holiday tradition.

Aside from spiritual fulfillment, many Filipinos also believe that the completion of these nine masses grants a person whatever they wish for. But no matter the beliefs surrounding simbang gabi, it is a well-loved tradition that joyously welcomes the arrival of Christmas Day.

Image source: https://tulungantayo.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/5-pagkain-pinoy-na-dapat-meron-sa-noche-buena/
Image source: https://tulungantayo.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/5-pagkain-pinoy-na-dapat-meron-sa-noche-buena/

Feasting on favorite Filipino holiday dishes

Another highlight of coming to simbang gabi that OFWs can look forward to is the aroma of the warm delicacies wafting through the air. Among the favorites is bibingka, a soft rice cake with shredded coconut cooked in a clay pot. Next to bibingka, another favorite is the puto bumbong, a purple rice cake steamed inside a bamboo tube.

But though these sweet treats are delectable, the main highlight of the holiday season is the Noche Buena on Christmas Eve. As midnight approaches, families come together to partake in a lavish feast that captures the spirit of Filipino culinary traditions. The table overflows with an array of sumptuous dishes, from savory lechon, ham, and queso de bola to sweet treats like leche flan and fruit salad.

OFWs, reunited with their loved ones, revel in the joy of sharing the spread on this festive season with iconic dishes that carry a taste of home. For them, these dishes symbolize a homecoming not just for themselves but also for their taste buds.

Welcoming the carolers

For OFWs returning home for the holidays, the arrival of carolers spreading festive cheer is a sweet treat. There is nothing like the melodies of traditional Christmas songs, accompanied by the heartwarming chant of “Namamasko po,” echoing through the neighborhoods.

OFWs, rekindling their ties to the homeland, find solace in this time-honored custom as they eagerly wait for carolers to serenade their homes. The sound of familiar tunes, sung with passion and merriment, is an instant nostalgic bridge to the past.

This shared experience of listening to carolers is truly a unique experience that perfectly embodies the Filipino Christmas tradition. By participating in this age-old practice, OFWs not only relive the joy of their childhood but also embrace the cultural continuity that binds communities together during the festive season.

A warm home for the holidays

Coming home for the holidays is sweeter in a house where your whole family can safely and merrily celebrate the the Christmas season. See how you can have the home of your dreams here in Camella with this season’s promo.

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