For the almost twenty-five percent of the population of Hawaii who
descended from the various ethnolinguistic groups of
the Philippines, Christmas in the land of exile is not the same as Christmas in
The comparison is real, the nostalgia palpable.
many who have had a taste of what Christmas was in the home country, the
contradictions of the celebration itself dwarf the message it brings to us: the
coming into world of a God-made-man.
The master narrative—the grand story of epic proportion that has informed
this practice introduced by the Spanish colonizers largely from the medieval
interpretation of the Catholic faith—shaped and formed the Philippine
understanding of what Christmas is all about.
It is a story of human salvation—all the salvation announced to mankind
by an angel.
In the Philippines, as this
story took root across centuries, the folk traditions had their way of
interpreting what this was.
This paved the way to the summoning of the indigenous
dramatic traditions that eventually paved the way to the ‘panagpadanon, or panagpatuloy’ or
sometimes known in the Tagalog regions as the ‘panunuloyan.’
Here, in this folkloric rendering into a dramatic genre of the story of
the first family looking for a place to stay for the night, we have a pregnant
Mary in her full term and Joseph, the saintly man who stood by his wife in thick
or thin, that wife who bore a child ‘without knowing any
Versions of this are everywhere in the
Philippines, as is
the renditions of this in stylize form in the diaspora, sometimes in
Central to the practice of celebrating Christmas, though, is food—and
The best menus come to town, so to say, in a tongue-in-cheek way, and are
laid on the Christmas table.
But this is for those who have the means.
have lesser in life have to contend with some other ways to celebrate Christmas
the best way they know how: that aroskaldo, or rice
porridge, with margarine to taste, and with some slices of chicken meat thrown
in to suggest abundance and celebration.
In schools, there is that almost mandatory gift-giving,
that, across the years, has given rise to so many names: manito-manita, grab-bag, or binnunotan.
All these are poor intimations of what is beneath the act of that
God-made-man: his act of self-surrender, of getting into the human story by
It is, of course, the big story Jesus the
other end of the human spectrum of the frenzied lives of people, and their
complex wish for happiness is the subtext of commerce and
It is Christmas that has been transformed into bargain sales, discounted
rates, and that ubiquitous box wrapped in colorful ribbons,
that, if you do not have, will make you less of a
This is Christmas turned upside down.
This is Christmas giving in to the power of profit.
day-end, however, is the constant reminder that with the puto, bibingka, and usual
Christmas party, we need to remember: that behind all this is the message: that
we learn to give ourselves to others.
For a family in Hawaii, there is
no better way of celebrating Christmas other than spending some quality time
It is this presence that
reveals to us about the salving, the redeeming.