Preparing for the Holidays as a migrant

Holidays as a migrant

Yule 2020 approaches. While every country has its holiday traditions, Filipinos celebrate Christmas longer than most. This year the festive season falls in the midst of a global crisis. There will be times when restrictions and guidelines must supersede traditions. Here are some ideas on how to make the most of your traditions holidays as a migrant in the US.

Filipino Christmas traditions

In most of the world Christmas comes in December. But for Filipinos the Christmas season starts on the first day of September. 86% of all Filipinos are Catholic, which makes The Philippines a uniquely Christian country in Asia. Every Filipino household sets up a ‘Belen’. This represents the cradle of Jesus and the Christmas Nativity Scene. Also important is the ‘parol’, an ornamental lantern that represents the star. Filipinos attend the ‘Simbang Gabi’, which is a 9 day long series of night masses. It is widely believed that attending all 9 masses grants wishes.

The most popular treats during the Christmas season are the ‘bibingka’ (baked rice cakes) and the ‘puto bumbong’ (steamed rice cakes). Then there are the Christmas carols. ‘Misa de Gallo’ is the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. ‘Noche Buena’ is the Christmas Eve dinner. Filipinos believe that putting as much food on the table as possible brings prosperity for the whole year. ‘Manito-Manita’ is the exchanging of gifts. The reason why many of these terms sound Spanish is that the Philippines were a Spanish colony for a very long time.

The Filipino Christmas finally concludes in January with the Feast of the Three Kings. The country holds the record for the longest Christmas in the world.

Christmas in America

US Christmas traditions are not as elaborate, although food and drink are still important. Decorating the Christmas tree, making gingerbread houses, and eggnog remain popular. American Christians also go to Church for night masses, just not for 9 days in a row. Many churches offer special Christmas services and events. Carols are sung and Christmas stories are fondly told at many of these events. Many Americans decorate their houses on the outside with lights, star-shaped ornaments, snowmen, and reindeer and Santa statues. The Rockefeller Center in New York hosts some of the best known Christmas lights and decorations with a huge adorned tree and a public ice-skating rink.

It is noteworthy that many Filipino families in the US are second or third generation. They have adapted well to the American holiday traditions. Kids in such families enjoy gingerbread as much as Filipino Tamales, ‘latik’, ‘longganisa’, and ‘puto’.

OFWs in the US

The Filipino community in America is sizable. 4% of all immigrants in the US are Filipinos. Cities with the largest populations of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are Los Angeles (294,000), San Francisco (163,000), New York (151,000), and San Diego (98,000).

For Filipinos the Holidays as a migrant are all about families. Family time during the festivities is a must. Filipino migrants living in the US make sure to keep the Christmas family spirit alive. Those who can, travel back home.

This year because of COVID-19 there are many challenges with travel and meeting people. The CDC recommends celebrating the holiday season virtually or with members of one’s household. Many of us will have to come to terms with the fact that staying safe from infection is a higher priority currently. For homesick expats nothing beats the holiday blues like a video call.

One Filipino tradition which is unaffected by the restrictions is the tradition of sending remittances. OFWs put family before everything else. They continue to send money to Philippines this year in advance of the holidays as a migrant, to make sure that their families can celebrate Christmas in comfort and plenty.



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