By: Anthony Nash O. De Leon
Everyone’s euphoria for the coming birth of Christ is clearly uncontainable. Yuletide carols resonate from one’s ears as different establishments play them one after the other. Various houses and big edifices sparkle just to catch the attention of a passer-by. And Divisoria, Baclaran, and shopping malls seem to have endless shoppers who buy gifts to put under the Christmas tree. Yes! A few days are left before December 25 comes. A day everyone, not only in the Philippines, awaits. But besides the Philippines, there is another ‘melting pot’ that enjoys the yuletide season like the Pearl of the Orient. It is the United States of America.
Like the Philippines, USA has been considered a melting pot by many because its celebration of Christmas rooted from the celebration of different countries such as Germany, Netherlands, England, and Australia. In the case of the Philippines, its tradition during this festive celebration came from its visitors and colonizers such as Spain, China, USA, Mexico, and some others.
But does this mean that Philippines and USA celebrate Christmas in the same way? Let us see.
The Prologue and Epilogue
In the Philippines, the celebration of the yuletide season begins when the month that ends with –ber begins (specifically, September). There are many beliefs as to why Christmas in the Philippines begins in September. For some Filipinos, it starts during this month because it is the time when the temperature starts to go down and everyone freezes from the cold weather saying, brrrr….. For some, they believe that Christmas commences during this month because it is the birth month of Jesus Christ’s mother, Virgin Mary. There are also some who thinks that the four –ber months are like the four weeks celebrated during the advent season- Catholic’s preparation for Christ’s birth.
As the yuletide begins in September, the Philippines’ celebration of the yuletide season ends during the Feast of the Epiphany which is in January thus, making the Philippines, the country with the longest celebration of Christmas.
If the Philippines begins Christmas very early, US begins its Christmas weeks before December 25th, specifically, on the 4th Thursday of November after Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving Day is an important holiday for every American because it is a day in which families and friends share a meal together to give thanks for the food collected during the harvest season.
Also, most parts of America celebrate a white cold Christmas because of the winter season in which people enjoy the snow. Kids lie down a pile of snow and make snow angels, other play snowballs, and some build a snowman.
On the other hand, American Christmas ends during New Year’s Eve in which a new year begins and everyone enjoys and reminisce how they celebrated their previous year.
Stars Glimmering on Land
Have you ever tried standing at the top of a terra alta and looking below the city of Manila at night during the Christmas season? Let’s just say you will feel like a divine entity looking below a vast land filled with stars that consistently poke your eyes to glance at them and never take a blink.
Both Americans and Filipinos decorate their houses with Christmas lights before December comes. Some Christmas light glow in green, yellow, red, blue, or orange. The Christmas lights signify hope, guidance, and bliss. It also represents the Star of Bethlehem that guided the three magi to the manger where Jesus Christ was born.
Both in America and in the Philippines, there is a town that has a competition for the house that has the best Christmas lights decoration in his/her house. Many join this contest and their house would be covered all over by decorations that it would almost look like their house is Santa’s dwelling in the North Pole.
From Pine Trees to Red and White Candy Canes
Both the Philippines and USA are fund of decorating their houses, offices, and buildings, with Christmas decorations.
One of the symbols that represent the yuletide season is the Christmas tree. In America, they use a fresh pine tree that can be cut from forests or be bought from stores. For Americans, picking the Christmas tree is an essential part of their celebration. It is usually a time when a family enjoys choosing which tree is the best. Some choose pine trees that are very big, tall, and wide. Some prefer trees that are thin and would fit in between their door and would not reach the ceiling.
For Filipinos, fresh pine trees are unavailable, except if you are living in Baguio, which is why they use artificial trees. There are trees that have lights. There are trees that revolve. There are trees that just stand. Artificial trees are more preferable because besides being long-lasting, they are also durable and a money-saver.
Since Filipinos do not experience picking fresh pine trees, family bonding is commonly experienced during the decoration of the tree. Garlands are alternately placed on the tree’s leaves. Angels hang from one end at the top to another end in the bottom. Colorful balls shimmer and reflect the joy of the child as s/he hangs it one the Christmas tree. Candy canes seduce everyone that notices it and are calling people to take a bite out of it.
And at its top is the biggest and shiniest star that is usually put by a young lass or toddler while being carried by his/her parents.
One of the most awaited events in America is the lighting of the tree in Washington D.C. During this celebration, various celebrities from Hollywood gather to party and enjoy the lighting ceremony. It is the president who always presses the button that will ignite the lights of the tree.
Light from a Lantern
The parol or the Christmas lanterns are not very popular among many Americans. The parols are very much like to the Mexican’s piñata. However, you do not bat the parols to break it. It just hangs to bring light.
Before, parols had candles inside of it to shed light. However, due to electricity, innovation, and security, parols are now electrically lighted.
Parols come in different sizes, colors, and shapes. It can also be made from paper, rattan, shells, wires, and a lot more. Whatever material you think is possible.
Because of the lantern’s popularity among Filipinos, a fiesta of lanterns is celebrated in Pampanga yearly. During this festival, different places from the archipelago will show off their best lanterns to win the much coveted prize. One will also see the largest and the tallest parols in the country during this festival.
This is a common expression among Filipinos that came from the names of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Obviously, their images can be seen in a small scene depicting Christ’s birth, the belen.
The belen or the nativity scene is another famous decoration both among Americans and Filipinos. One will often see the images of Christ as an infant, Mary, Joseph, the three magi (Gaspar, Melchor, and Balthazar), the shepherds, the animals, and the Star of Bethlehem.
In America, the Star of Bethlehem is commonly used in the celebration of Christmas. In Alaska, a star on a pole is taken by children from door to door followed by Herod’s men who try to capture the star. It is also used by children for carolling so that they would be invited for supper inside the house.
Also, in Colorado, a large star is placed atop the mountain that can be seen kilometres away.
Sing a Song of Delight
Carollers are popular among Filipinos and Americans because both love music.
For Americans, carolling is usually done from Christmas Eve until the end of Christmas day.
For Filipinos, carolling begin as soon as the month of November begins. Like Americans, they like to sing in groups with one person playing a guitar, one with a tambourine, and another one with maracas. They usually get Php 20-100.00 per house that they sing to.
The money that they collect is usually divided among themselves for them to be able to buy a gift for their loved ones this Christmas. For some, the money goes to their organization or church to help them with their activities.
Mistletoes and Hays
One of the decorations that are famous to the Americans but, not to the Filipinos are mistletoes. Mistletoes are green leafy decors hanged at the ceiling where it is unusually noticed. Then, when a couple is under it, they kiss. This tradition is not commonly done in the Philippines because not a lot of people agree with public display of affection.
Another tradition among Americans, especially, Polish Americans, is the act of spreading hay on the kitchen floor and beneath the tablecloth. This action would remind them of a manger and a stable in which Jesus Christ was born.
Tuloy po kayo!
In an American state, Arizona, a tradition called Las Posadas is celebrated. This is equivalent to the Philippines’ panunuluyan.
This tradition is usually done during the Christmas Eve in which it commemorates Joseph and Mary’s venture in finding a place to stay for Mary’s birth of Jesus Christ.
In this tradition, families play the parts and visit each other’s houses and re-enact the scene of Mary and Joseph.
The Rooster’s Call
Nine or ten days before Christmas, the Filipinos go to mass at dawn called Misa de Gallo.
The Misa de Gallo is only celebrated by the Americans during the dawn of December 25.
Unlike the Americans, Filipinos persevere and battle the cold weather and their beds just to be able to go to mass very early. Many Filipinos believe that when one completes the whole Misa de Gallo, his/her wish/es during the first mass will come true.
Misa de Gallo became very famous in the country during the Spanish era. The Filipinos still wanted to celebrate Christmas. But since the landowners didn’t want the Filipinos to stop from working, the priests decided to celebrate the mass during dawn when the sun has not yet risen in which work shall began.
The Dining Table Awaits
Everyone cannot deny the fact that one of their most favourite and anticipated parts of Christmas is the Noche Buena, a family feast eaten after the midnight mass.
In an American table, the star of all delicacies is the roasted turkey. For Filipinos, since turkey is not a common delicacy, the ham, or the roasted or fried chicken is commonly the centrepiece. But for those who could afford, it would be the lechon that would be the star of all foods.
The Filipinos also prepare rice cakes like suman, palutang, bibingka, puto bumbong, and a lot more as their panghimagas. Americans, on the other hand, love to prepare pies, cakes, and cookies for dessert.
The Noche Buena strengthens a family’s ties and it bonds each member more to one another.
Aguinaldos and Presents
Gift-giving is a common part of Christmas tradition. Both Filipinos and Americans place their gifts under the Christmas tree and wait until Christmas morning comes to open the gift.
During this day, children would cloth themselves up with their best and newest clothes and visit their elders. Once they get to the house, they grab the hand of the elder and mano as a sign of blessing and respect. The elderly will then give them an amount of money which is called aguinaldo.
Not How but Why…
The celebration of Christmas has transcended geographical borders. There are some Filipinos who are now living in America and the same goes for Americans in the Philippines. In fact, the Philippines has not been only the home for Americans. There are other nationalities such as Chinese, Koreans, Australians, Brazilians, Persians, and a lot more. And they enjoy celebrating it in our country as they enjoy it in their native land. Some foreigners prefer our celebration than theirs and some thinks it is such a very long occasion. But should what they think matter?
For some Filipinos, the celebration of the yuletide season in our country is better than the other countries. For some, it is the best. But for me, it is incomparable. We may have the some traditions during Christmas that is the same in other countries. There are also some that are different. But should how one celebrates Christmas matter?
For me, Christmas is not how one celebrates it. It’s why you are celebrating it.
Many have forgotten the true essence of Christmas. Some act like their still innocent children and still wait for the gifts and the aguinaldos that they will receive. Some adults think and problem the money that they will spend buying gifts and food for the Noche Buena. There also people who resort to stealing and fooling other people just to be able to enjoy the season.
Everyone should remember that Christmas exists for us not to just gain merriment from the celebration. It is there for us to remember our families, our friends, our relatives, and one another, even if we are strangers. Also, Christmas is also about remembering the values of unity, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, understanding, humility, and love. But most importantly, Christmas is about Christ’s birth in the manger in Bethlehem.
Have you ever reserved two plates for Virgin Mary and Joseph during the Noche Buena? Or have you ever tried buying a gift for Jesus Christ for his birthday? Think about it.
Retrieved on December 11, 2011 from http://www.thanksgiving-day.org/celebration-united-state.html.
Retrieved on December 11, 2011 from http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/Cynthia/festivals /philippine_christmas.htm.
Retrieved on December 11, 2011 from http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/christmas-day.
Retrieved on December 11, 2011 from http://christmas-gifts.indiangiftsportal.com/christmas-in-united-states.html
Retrieved on December 11, 2011 from http://www.santas.net/americanchristmas.htm.