Anyone who has ever been to the Philippines, dated or married a Filipina, or ever entered a karaoke bar knows that Christmas in the Philippines is a big, big deal. Fortunately, for those of us who do not live in, but only visit the Philippines, you don’t have to be around on December 25th to get the full flavor of the holiday season. It starts in September (August really) and goes full throttle for four months, plowing right through the 25th and heading for New Year’s Day.
I have only been in the Philippines for the actual holiday season once, leaving for home early on the morning of January 1st, after an all-night Manila fireworks display, with more guns shot off than fireworks. When I got up that morning to get to my flight out of Manila, gunsmoke still filled the air, about what it must have been like the day after Gettysburg.
BTW, as an irrelevant aside, since my flight was so early, I decided to stay at a hotel close to NAIA Airport and since it was New Year’s Eve and my last night in the Philippines, I decided not to be my normally cheap self and to treat myself to a night at a 5-star hotel, the Manila Marriott.
I ate dinner alone at the hotel restaurant, where the holiday buffet was about $50/head. Poor Filipinos my ass! The place was filled, not with rich kanos, but with rich Filipinos. As most of my friends know, I am a bit of a watch nut, but the timepieces that were dripping off most of the men’s wrists in that restaurant would have been totally out of the question for me. The day before, I hit Mall of Asia and visited a watch store filled with $10k+ watches, and foolishly wondered, “who the hell can afford these in a 3rd world country?” Apparently all their customers congregated that night at the Marriott.
But this isn’t the point about this blog piece; it’s about Christmas in the Philippines – and my wife, Janet. The other day she seemed sad and when I asked why she told me she missed Christmas in the Philippines. “We have Christmas here,” I assured her. “And trees and presents too! Hell, we even have a chance at a white Christmas.”
“It’s not the same,” she assured me. I tried to reason with her; not the best thing to do with a sad Pinay. “It’s not long enough,” she said and I thought ‘thank goodness!’
I finally replied, “It’s just that we have Halloween first and then Thanksgiving. Once Thanksgiving is over, Christmas becomes big time here.” Of course, Janet already knew this; this will be her second Christmas in the U.S. But the day after Thanksgiving when Christmas season officially begins in the US, means only one month of Christmas, which honestly makes most Pinays feel very short changed.
Then there’s the fact that I was not raised Christian (let alone Catholic) and therefore my notion of a great Christmas comes, not from family experience, but from watching It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas annually.
Of course once I had kids, Christmas became a must. Ex Number Two had boxes of ornaments she’d collected dating back I think to the Spanish Inquisition. Our first year together we had a large old house with high ceilings. She wanted the biggest tree in town and we got one that measured 14 feet. Cutting it was like a scene out of Christmas Vacation, with me playing the role of Clark Griswold trying to drag a 7” thick tree home, then cut it to fit. Of course the first time I got it wrong, since I’d failed to take the star on top into account. I complained, “I’m a Jew. What do I know about stars on top of Christmas trees?”
Anyway the point is that I did have many Christmases with kids, which mostly involved figuring out which bill could go unpaid so I could shell out the ungodly amounts of money for Christmas gifts, family dinners and the like. For me the best part of the season was the Christmas Eve dinner Ex Number Two liked to prepare. Not because of the dinner itself, which was perfectly nice, but because of the rum I was allowed to drink. No – I’m not a drunk. My Exes grandfather was from Barbados and when he would go back home he would come back with genuine, no shit Barbados rum. Not the swill they export to Americans; the real, full meal yummy deal. He gifted bottles to relatives but mostly spent the year bartering with his stash. The man never paid a doctor or dentist his entire adult life!
I am not much of a drinker but that rum was from heaven. Of course for 364 days a year Ex Number Two did not allow its consumption, hiding her stash. But on Christmas Eve out it came like Santa’s little gift just to me. So that’s why I love Christmas.
But back to the present. Last year I did my best. We went out and bought a tree, a few boxes of ornaments, general decorations, and threw a bunch of presents under said tree, even though half of them were for Hannukah. My kids, now teens – teens with attitudes, came over in the afternoon to collect the goods. Janet and I watched Christmas Vacation. She was a great sport about it all but in the end it wasn’t the same as I imagine Christmas must be for her in the Philippines, what with parents, and lolos and 9 brothers and sisters, cousins, ates, and a niece or two.
I have no grand conclusion here – just a question. How would you all suggest Christmas could be made better for your Filipina wife? By all means post your suggestions. After all, mine makes the other 364 days better for me.