By Elle Quevedo
Being born and raised a Catholic, Christmas was the highlight of the year for me in my childhood years. Looking back, I would see a lot of shiny and colorful decorations along the streets made of palara (tinsel) in green and red. Colorful parols (Christmas lanterns) that would light up at night lined the doorsteps of every household in the neighborhood. At night, it would be a sight to see! These days, neighborhoods are lit up with an array of simple to intricately designed parols that illuminate the streets.
Christmas for Filipinos is one of the most meaningful of Christian holidays celebrated since our ancestors were converted to Christianity in the 1500’s. Being the only nation in Asia deep-seated to this religion where 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, this holiday is significantly celebrated as the birth of the Christ Child and signifies redemption from sin.
And as a child was born on that glorious night, it makes sense that most holiday traditions in predominantly Christian countries are tailored for the children’s benefit.
The common Yuletide rituals all over the world share similarities with traditions in the Philippines. Many families would put up a Christmas tree and decorate it with tinsel and goodies, some would bake fruit cake with brandy, and many gifts are exchanged during the evening after a grand meal or the Noche Buena dinner of ham and roast chicken, then concluded with many delicious Filipino kakanin, such as puto bumbong, bibingkaand many more.
Although, Filipino children don’t necessarily have the tradition of leaving stockings by the tree that Santa Clause or Father Christmas would fill up with gifts on Christmas morning, as observed in the UK, Canada, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, and the US among others, exchanging of gifts is a regular tradition.
In schools the children have the exchange of gifts between their friends, which is called Monito Monita. On Christmas Eve the children receive gifts from the family and open them at midnight. On Christmas day they visit their godparents to collect more gifts. Filipinos love to sing, and speaking from experience, I remember my little friends and I formed a caroling group. Each of us would build our own musical instruments made from empty cans and some stones carefully bound to a stick using lots of rubber bands. We would go from house to house to sing and play our own rendition of Jingle Bellsand other popular Christmas carols.
Here are just some of the children’s Christmas traditions celebrated in other parts of the world…
In Germany, the children are given the Advent Calendar cardboard that has 24 windows filled with goodies, including chocolates. This tradition started in the 1800’s. The 24 windows represent the 24 days till Christmas Day. From December 1 until December 24, the children would open one window each day to enjoy the treat inside. Some parents even prepare a small gift for each day in addition to the candy the children would receive every time they open a window in the calendar. This tradition is observed throughout other parts of Europe as well.
In the US, the children create the traditional gingerbread house with a chimney and cover it with sugar frosting topped with a lot of colorful candies. They watch their favorite holiday movies with their families, such as the Home Alone series and Miracle on 34th Street. They leave a cookie and a glass of milk for Santa Clause on Christmas Eve.
In many Spanish-speaking countries, communities build their own Nativity Scene that commemorates the birth of Christ Jesus. The children construct their miniature scenes made up of school art materials. They build the manger using clumped-up moss from the garden. This tradition is also done by Filipinos.
On Boracay Island, Christmas is celebrated the same way as anywhere else in the Philippines, although the streets are not decorated as brightly as in the city. Most islanders are from other provinces, many of whom go home for the holidays. Many foreign locals in the community go home for the holidays, too. Island locals that stay celebrate differently. The local community, especially hotels and resorts collect gifts for the children in their villages, and for the children of the Boracay Ati community.
The Ati tribal community has finally settled to a land that they legally own just south of Bulabog Beach. This small village of indigenous people with a small mixture of some locals have been supported by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul over the years.
I had the privilege of talking to Evangeline Tamboon, Ati leader and project manager of the Boracay Ati Tribal Organization (BATO), established in 1977. Their community has a total of 51 families consisting of 261 tribes folk, where 180 are from the age of zero to 18 years old. There are exactly three newborn babies and one pregnant woman in the village at the moment. The children go to Mission of Love during their elementary years and Boracay National for their high school education. The community believes in the Roman Catholic religion and observes Christmas traditions as well.
I asked Vangie (a nickname for Evangeline) about their Christmas traditions for the children. She said that the Ati children’s choir usually get invited every year by numerous hotels around Boracay and they sing for the guests. They also receive gifts from these hotels. On a side note, I witnessed the children practicing their carols while playing by the beach, and I have to say, I was filled with joy hearing their angelic voices.
Also, during this time of the year and sporadically all-year-round, the village receives gifts and donation drop offs from different hotels and resorts, from tourists or individuals visiting for the day, and from local island families. Some of the Ati people work in resorts, some work as fishermen, as panday (blacksmiths), or as on-call domestic helpers, e.g. babysitters or cleaning ladies.
On the opposite side of the island, Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa’s director of communications, Mica Cordero tells us about the resort’s annual Christmas fundraiser for the benefit of children from various local communities.
The event called “Star of Hope” is a holiday outreach initiative held yearly during the month of December.
Since 2014, guests purchase a star décor to be adorned on the resort’s Christmas tree. Guests can also write their wishes on the ornament. This year’s beneficiary is the Pre-school and Day Care Center in Sitio Hagdan, Barangay Yapak.
The funds are used for enhancing classrooms, installing rubber mat flooring, and to purchase additional school furniture, toys, books and visual aids for the playroom. A personal hygiene kit per child is also distributed. The resort will continue to support the center by providing volunteers to assist in the children’s literacy program.
Since 2014, funds raised from their “Star of Hope” initiative have been used for various beneficiaries such as the BATO in Boracay, Missionaries of Charity in Kalibo, the building of a birthing facility in Yapak, and providing livelihood amenities to families from the nearby community of Ilig-Iligan.
Shangri-La remains committed to operating in an economically, socially and environmentally responsible manner whilst balancing the interests of diverse stakeholders. Among other CSR projects, Shangri-La’s “Caring People Project” aims to promote the highest level of education and health support for underprivileged communities. Shangri-La’s “Care for Nature Project” on the other hand, promotes the conservation and restoration of biodiversity.