Wonky Muse
Wonky Muse

December 25, 2006

Holiday Greetings

Christmas is the most important holiday in my native country, the Philippines. Christmas carols start playing as early as October, and though Christmas trees are rare because they're not indigenous to the tropics, festive lanterns like this one called parol start showing up at every window.

On December 16th, the midnight mass called Misa de Aguinaldo (Gift Mass) begins and lasts for nine days, capped by the Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster) on Christmas Eve. Those who attend are fortified by steaming salabat (ginger tea) with puto bumbong or puto bibingka (native rice cake delicacies) offered by vendors on the way back from church.

My family usually stayed up on Christmas Eve playing board games, warmed up by the hot frothy cocoa my paternal grandmother made with her trusty chocolaterra (a heavy copper pitcher with a wooden beater). Outside, a steady stream of neighborhood children dropped by and sang christmas carols, accompanied by tambourines fashioned out of flattened soda caps.

At the stroke of midnight, we wished each other Merry Christmas and partook of dinner called noche buena. There were usually baked ham, cheese, apples, grapes and pastries -- a carryover from our colonial past -- and native specialties like pansit guisado (stir fried rice noodles), rellenong manok (stuffed roast chicken), rellenong bangus (stuffed baked fish) and leche flan (caramel custard).

Filipinos are predominantly Catholic, with most attending Christmas Day mass in their best holiday finery. The rest of the day, children visit their godparents and kiss their hand as a sign of respect; the godparents in turn give them money as aguinaldo (gift). I remember doing that when I was little, riding in a tricycle (motorbike with a sidecar, the native version of a taxi) with my nanny and making the rounds of all my ninongs and ninangs (g0dparents).

Christmas dinner was usually at my aunt's; her husband was a good cook and never failed to impress. Relatives from all over gathered for this dinner, which was laid out with their finest china on a formal table for twelve, a treasured heirloom from my late maternal grandparents. I felt very grown up at this formal dinner, and looked forward to turning twelve when I was allowed, per family tradition, to take a sip of champagne during the toast at the end of the meal.

The rest of the evening was spent with various cousins as we gathered around the Christmas tree and showed off our new outfits and toys, while the others sang and played Chistmas songs on the antique German piano -- another treasured heirloom --with the built-in candelabras.

In this country, we let go of some old holiday traditions and took up new ones, but spending Christmas with family will always remain. Today we're off to a cousin's house to celebrate with numerous relatives and friends. From my family to yours, Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon (Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year)!

posted at 12:36 AM by Wonky Muse

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"Sapere Aude."
(Dare to Know)
-- Epistularum Liber Primus, Horace

Wonk (noun): def. A political nerd. Know spelled backwards.

Wonky Muse is the other Filipino American female political blogger. The sane, liberal one.


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