For at least one night a year, a sacred tradition goes on in a country in which politicians live in posh mansions and out-of-school youths sleep on the streets in the dead of the night.
Where a cold-blooded murderer of 58 people has yet to be convicted even as pieces after pieces of hard evidence have been presented before the courts. Where bloodied fetuses are found inside bathrooms of churches and airports. Where one out of five people afflicted with HIV are teenagers. Where Filipinos have to work overseas because there are no jobs at home.
Welcome to the Philippines, a land of both hope and desperation, of defeat and victory, of joy and suffering, of never-ending stories.
It is Christmas and for at least one night every year, Filipinos come together to spend the occasion with their families.
Christmas lights in Manila. Photo by Jay Erickson on Creative Commons license.
Whether it’s in dimly lit shanties, in makeshift tents in the dark streets of Metro Manila, in tattered shelters by the dirtiest creeks or in tightly guarded condominiums and exclusive subdivisions, Filipinos spend Christmas together. Nobody breaks this tradition in this predominantly Catholic country.
The overseas Filipino works the whole year to be able to go home for Christmas. Doctors and nurses trade all ungodly hours with their colleagues just to be able to spend Christmas Eve with their families. A taxi driver will sacrifice several hundred pesos to spend the traditional Christmas Eve dinner with the loved ones. Oh, and the mistresses and paramours steal a few hours to spend time with each other on this sacred day.
This is Christmas, Philippine style. Filipinos from everywhere in the world move heaven and earth just to make it home for Christmas. It’s about the only time they’re together with their loved ones.
To some, it’s the only thing they look forward to throughout the year.
Mothers bring out the new tablecloth for Christmas Eve, usually bright red and green. The dinner table is filled with sumptuous gastronomic delights – there’s the traditional Christmas ham, red wine, grapes, fruit salads and cheese.
Families usually leave after dinner to celebrate yuletide mass and then gift-giving traditionally happens just before the clock strikes twelve.
The morning after, on Christmas Day, the tables are filled with leftover food. Everyone is still sound asleep from the night’s festivities.
In the coming days it will all be back to normal. Those working abroad would soon be flying back to their host countries, the children will be going back to school, the executives will be going back to work, the mistresses will be back in their paramours’ arms albeit momentarily, the pickpockets will be stealing other people’s hard earned cash again, the cabbies will be driving around Metro Manila again for a few hundreds of pesos, etc. etc.
It’s the same old story, here in this place we all call home.