Merry Christmas, Maligayang Pasko! Be Safe and Enjoy Our Pasko Traditions

It is a sacred time of the year again as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and contemplate God’s presence in our life. It’s the time of year when collectively we embrace our better selves and express that through kindness, and as best possible — even through tough times brought about the by pandemic – by giving.

In time our expressions of goodness during Christmas have become treasured traditions. For Filipinos our devotion to Christ eventually became the traditions of simbang gabi (attending Christmas masses) and Misa de Gallo (Christmas Eve mass). Our sharing of ourselves, our love and food developed into the festive Noche Buena (Christmas Eve Dinner).

Soon enough our traditions are observed as a way to remember those who’ve passed in our lives, those who’ve taught us these traditions in the first place.

We hold on to these traditions because they warm our hearts remembering that we once shared many Noche Buenas and Simbang gabis with our deceased loved ones. We honor those traditions because deep down it is like honoring those we love. The next generation, almost instinctively, will do the same for almost the same reason.

Christmas is also a time of positive self-reflection. We think about life and those who’ve been there for us during critical moments, which leads us to yet another Filipino tradition during Christmas, the custom of sending remittances to our family and friends to the Philippines.

The Tradition of Remittances

During the holiday season each year, the Philippines gets an additional boost in remittances as Filipinos around the world practice a long-held tradition of sending money as gifts to our loved ones in the mother country. The tradition goes deeper than the monetary value. It’s an obvious expression of love, of solidifying bonds of friendship and of blood-relations.

For some, sending remittances is rooted in the Filipino value, utang na loob (debt of gratitude).  How does this work? More prominent in older generations but still common today, Filipino families in the Philippines (more so than Fil-Ams) act as one unit. Siblings will sacrifice for another sibling and put (usually a younger) another sibling through school when a parents’ income is insufficient.

If the sibling who received assistance becomes an OFW or a permanent resident-citizen in another country, that sibling feels utang na loob or debt of gratitude to pay back those family members who’ve helped.

It could be money is needed for those receiving it. Or it could be that those receiving money do not need it at all. The remittance is more a symbol of appreciation and acknowledgement for the role a dear family member has played in the person’s earlier life.

And sending remittances matches up so well with the Christmas spirit of goodwill and giving which is why it’s become so popular among Filipinos around the world.

But sending remittances is not the only way to show appreciation to our family in the Philippines or mainland. Setting aside time for a lengthy conversation via Zoom to catch up on life is a wonderful idea and could become a new tradition in the age of high technology. It’s far more personable than the old-tech holiday phone calls we’d make and rushed to get through because of the pricy long-distance calling fees.

Christmas Pandemic Year #2
While sending remittances appears to be headed to normalcy status this holiday, other Christmas traditions that involve getting together might still be scaled back due to the coronavirus still being present and that there are some among us still not fully or even partially vaccinated.

The omicron variant just days old from South Africa could pose potentially new problems as early reports show. Not enough is known about omicron which could be enough reason for some to be extra cautious. Perhaps not to the extent as in Christmas 2020, but enough to make sure precautions are in place and safeguards practiced to protect hosts and guests.

For many families this second pandemic Christmas year is already different with having lost a family member due to covid. Even though the death toll has dropped considerably with the widespread distribution of covid vaccines, many have died earlier in the year waiting their turn to be vaccinated or just died refusing to be vaccinated.

One thing we should remember, especially to those 40% of Americans still unvaccinated – vaccinations work; 89% of the covid fatalities this year are people who are unvaccinated.

If you are not vaccinated yet (for whatever reasons), perhaps the most meaningful and biggest gift you should consider giving is to get yourself vaccinated. You may not want to do it for yourself, but do it for your loved ones who already got vaccinated or your community wanting all this to be done and return to a normal life, a wish for a normal Christmas in 2022.

Whatever tradition you and your family decide to practice this Christmas, fully or partially or virtually even, we hope you have a wonderful, safe and joyous time. Even while we might elect to suspend some of these traditions close to our hearts, the “reason for the season” — celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and God’s presence in our lives – remains. From our family at the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle to yours, may you all have a very Merry Christmas. Maligayang Pasko! Christ is risen.

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