It usually kicks in as early as September. Slowly, the breeze gets cooler, malls start playing familiar carols, the spirit of nostalgia starts setting in, and the next thing you know, it’s Christmas. That’s how it is in the Philippines. We all grew up in homes lit with parols, Christmas trees, filled with presents, puto bumbong and bibingka sold on the streets, and the queen of it all, the Noche Buena feast. It’s a season that we all look forward to, and a tradition that we could not dismiss – like it’s a part of our DNA.
The Filipino Christmas is uniquely its own. We have claimed the season as ours through the influences of those who have colonized us, mixed with what our ancestors have practiced before them.
Celebrity chef, author, and culinary heritage advocate Tatung Sarthou shares that, “Christmas is rooted in Christian celebrations. Through the centuries, these religious practices have fused with indigenous rituals to become more relevant and relatable to the natives. When the Americans came, Christmas adopted a new persona with commercialism through gift giving and the use of canned goods in the Noche Buena repertoire. Images based on Hollywood movies and songs also took over our view of Christmas with Filipinos dreaming of white Christmases and decorating their homes with faux snow.”
As you look closely, each influence may be exponentially different: religious observations from the Spanish times, commercial images of Santa Claus and Christmas morning gift giving from the west, and traditional practices from our natives, but one thing remains the same for all of them, and it’s that Christmas is meant to bring families together through gatherings and beloved food.
ALWAYS A FEAST
The practices of Christmas are deeply etched in our being that, no matter how old we are and no matter how far we’ve gone, when we read “ber” on the name of the month, or when we hear the hymns of Jose Marie Chan in the distant background, we instantaneously remember the Noche Buena of Christmases past. We imagine our parents hurrying to finish trying the jamon, or that we still have to stuff the fruit salad into the freezer before guests start arriving. We remember the joys of being around the dinner table, surrounded by loved ones. We could taste the succulent lechon, or the meaty morcon. We could hear the chatter and the laughter shared over food that will always mean Christmas to us.
The decorations may be up late, the Christmas lights might be busted, presents may have been forgotten, but the memories that built the tradition of Christmas will remain. The celebrations may have changed over the years, but Christmas is and all always will be about family, friends, and a good Noche Buena feast.
Excerpt from Breakfast Magazine December-January 2018 issue