Christmas in California – ‘Pinoy Style’ Reflecting on Traditions

By Belle Ross

That famous line ‘It's More Fun in the Philippines’ holds true in every Filipino heart, especially those who are based in different countries whether for work or having migrated for good. Once you've been born, raised and experienced our culture and traditions in our homeland, it is difficult not to miss what we've gotten used to, especially during the Advent-Christmas holiday season.

Belle with her Filipino friends at their charity event

It always fascinates me whenever I am asked how we spend Christmas in the USA. Is it as exciting as the festivities in our country? For me, nothing beats Christmas in the Philippines. Our country is said to have‘the world's longest Christmas season’, starting in September, the first of the ‘B-E-R’ months of September when malls and radio stations begin playing Christmas music, and extending up to the Feast of Epiphany or ‘The Three Kings’.

Parol made from capiz shells [Wikipedia]

Living here in the States for the past 18 years and facing the challenges of making a name, finding a job, and creating a home in a foreign land. Walking away from what is familiar and safe is not easy. As a mother of three, raising my boys to have a strong desire to uphold each and every tradition into which I was born, is indeed a test of my faith and ingenuity in a place where we are surrounded by a diverse group of people with different religions and beliefs.

Parol vendor, Philippines [Wikipedia]

I look forward to this season each year, a special time to celebrate God’s love for us and our love for God, which brings us to our roots to discover ways and means to be closer to Him and to pass these along to our family.

There are numerous fun ways to celebrate Pasko here in the States as closely as possible to the Philippine way. I found it fortunate for us to have may Filipino/Oriental stores and restaurants near where we live,making it possible to enjoy the food and other delicacies we've gotten accustomed to. Another factor is the availability of The Filipino Channel (TFC) where we can watch the latest news and happenings in the country we all miss. I also think that in every Pinoy household, you can find a karaoke unit and when you drive-by a house with a parol hanging outside their home proudly, you'll know a Pinoy lives there. This is also the season where we fill-up Balikbayan boxes to bring joy to our loved ones back home. 

In our community we observe the traditional Simbang Gabi or nine pre-dawn Masses beginning on the 16th of December. It is one of our most popular traditions, a significant moment not only because it strengthens relationships among family members and parishioners but also because it is the time where our faith is intensified. This is one of the highlights of the season in my family where my children at a very young age had been exposed to practicing this yearly tradition despite the freezing cold and sometimes rain, waking up at dawn. All were in good spirits to be a part of this festivity.It does not matter if one has the stamina to complete the novena or not,what really matters is what is inside the heart. The blessing does not depend on the number of Masses attended. What is important is the disposition of the person who receives the Lord's blessing. In order to accommodate the needs of people on a great variety of work schedules, our parish, Christ the King, hold a 6:30 evening Simbang Gabi in addition to the early Mass at dawn. A traditional Pinoybreakfast is served after each Mass witharrozcaldo, putobumbong, bibingka,pandesal, salabat and many other delicacies.

Electric parol [Wikipedia]

For the past 15 years, our family has been doing its share in contributing to the community by holding a ‘Share Your Blessing Annual Event’. This is done by singing Christmas carols in different establishments and homes and the funds are donated to our chosen recipient for that year.

This is the time of the year when we can gather and unite as a community and celebrate the real meaning of Christmas. It provides a strong indication of the depth of Catholicism in the hearts of Filipinos which serves as a spiritual nourishment wherever we may be.

It opens up our hearts to joy as it gives us a reason to celebrate hope, charity, triumph and adversity.

Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon!’