The Philippines is on record as having one of the longest Christmas seasons in the world. As soon as the “Ber” months roll in, carols start playing on the radio and malls make sure to remind everyone of how many days are left to shop for friends and loved ones.
This country is also known for its beautiful holiday traditions. Some of the things our expats surely miss are hanging a lighted parol on the porch, augmented by twinkling Christmas lights; and the Simbang Gabi, where the faithful attend advent Mass starting Dec. 16. It is also around this time that kids go caroling door-to-door, spreading Yuletide cheer in exchange for a few coins, and hawkers start appearing on the main streets selling everything from novelty toys to cheap gift wrappers.
While everything looks sparkly and splendid from the outside, there are also challenges that one has to face when in the country during this crazily hectic time. Some of them are enough to make you say “Bah, humbug!” and hide under the covers until the coast is clear, but with a few minor adjustments you can steer clear of these inconveniences to experience a festive Filipino Christmas:
Heavy traffic. The metro is already congested enough as it is but as D-day draws nearer, it can come to a grinding halt. Malls, especially those located near the main thoroughfares, start holding midnight sales particularly around the time Christmas bonuses and the mandatory 13th month pay is given to employees.
The gridlock is inevitable and the best way to deal with it is to re- route your journey or avoid going out to clogged areas or during rush hour. The Metro Manila Development Authority has a Twitter account that shares traffic updates, and they also have an app that gives a general idea of street situations.
Overindulging. If there is one thing about Filipino celebrations is that nobody goes home hungry. In a show of typical Filipino hospitality, hosts often cook too much food and invite guests to dig in – and usually have a pre- packed container with more food for the guests-of-honor to bring home. It is easy, then, to overindulge. The specialty of the house should never be refused as this might offend the host. The best way to deal with this is to choose healthier meals when not attending the numerous Christmas parties and to try detoxing juices while you are at it. If you are already diagnosed as predisposed to certain conditions such as hypertension or diabetes, a checkup could also be a good idea.
Gift-giving dilemmas. As a balikbayan or an expat to the country– and as a gracious guest at a gathering — it is often a good gesture to give simple gifts to friends, business associates, and members of your extended family. It need not be pricey. Save the expensive items for loved ones and get generic presents such as bottles of wine or small souvenir items from your home country.
Drunk drivers. During the wee small hours of the holiday mornings, the streets can have more than a few inebriated drivers. It is best to drive defensively and to look at all directions before getting into gear at a green light. In a previous interview with Lifeline Rescue managing director Michael Deakin, he revealed that this is about the time that a lot of road accidents occur. If you are the one who has had one too many to drink, you can also call them to pick you up they will take care of bringing you – and your car – safely home. Download their app from Google play, or call 16-911 for pickup service.
Safety issues. Everyone is out and about this season, and criminals are no exception. Here, common sense is your best defense. Be mindful of your things when in crowded places and avoid flashing expensive items such as your cell phone when in public areas. Make sure to keep an eye on your kids when venturing into malls as they can easily get lost in the crush of people. If you expect to be shopping the whole day, best to leave the kids at home altogether.
Crowds and long lines. When Christmas season starts, expect long queues everywhere. Supermarkets are filled with shoppers buying food items for their Christmas feasts, people ticking off their gift lists line up at department store cashiers, and parking is going to be a nightmare. Restaurants are also going to be running on full capacity at this time, and don’t get us started on the restroom situation. Avoid these headaches by doing your shopping early, and opting to go malling/dining at more upscale places that can be a tad less crowded.
By keeping these tips in mind, you can avoid some of the hassles and headaches that most metro denizens experience during what is the most wonderful time of the year, and get to enjoy what makes Christmas in the Philippines truly magical.
– by Maan D’Asis Pamaran