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Baclayon Church, Photo Credit: EJ Sabandal

Oh how I miss Christmas in the Philippines...the midnight mass, noche buena with the family, the dazzling over-the-top Christmas lights, the beautiful traditional parols, and the incredibly moving Filipino Christmas spirit. Christmas in the Philippines though somewhat commercialized similar to Christmas in North America still holds on strongly to its religious roots. Though gift-giving is a common past-time and this is where the commercialization aspect of the Holiday comes into play, most Catholic Filipinos make it a point to attend mass, pray during the Holiday season, and cherish time with family and friends.

The Holiday season in fact begins on the 16th of December when Filipinos attend early morning mass and ends on the first Sunday in January on the Feast of Three Kings. I remember attending midnight mass in particular which was held outside of the church we visited every Sunday. It was a beautiful ceremony outdoors lit up by sparkling Christmas lights. I remember the Christmas carols that evening and how Filipino mass during Christmas was always full of enthusiastic caroling church-goers...none of those people who fall asleep or become comatose during church (yah, you know who you are, I am guilty of the same thing). I remember heading home with family and having a big Christmas dinner (noche buena) right after midnight mass, and being able to open our presents since the stroke of midnight officially rang in Christmas. In the Philippines, we partied all the way until Christmas morning. Christmas was always a big production of sorts, and as children, we always looked forward to it. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, everyone got together for one big midnight Christmas bash. It was hard not to get caught up in the spirit of the Holidays. Christmas was a joyous occasion in the Philippines.

Baclayon Church, Photo Credit: EJ Sabandal

When we moved to Canada, our Holiday traditions changed. In Canada, we no longer have the midnight meal, we no longer hang the traditional parol at our house signifying the star that lead the way for the Three Kings, and the enthusiasm for the Holidays have waned (for me anyway). Christmas ceased to be about celebrating family and friends, or the birth of Christ. Perhaps it is exhaustion as a result of work, daily responsibilities, lack of sleep, hardships (and we experienced a lot of hardship believe me when we first moved here)...ah, who knows? In the end, the Holidays became a routine of sorts. Buy presents, exchange presents, eat some food, done. Even after getting married and having kids, it was all the same drill...buy presents at the last minute usually, exchange presents, put up the Christmas tree and stress while doing so, clean up the house for guests (the most tiresome part of it all), cook, and then clean some more...going through the same old tired motions every Holiday season.

And then we had the opportunity to go camping in Disney World, Orlando for the Christmas break. Routines were broken and the usual expectations disappeared. For the first time, I learned to relax during the Holidays. I remember seeing a family relative stress out about getting Christmas dinner ready while on that trip and having a mental breakdown of sorts. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to stress out this way, and in Disney World, the purported happiest place on earth! I thought then and there - 'this isn't going to be me, never again will I stress about the little things'. It was then I let go of all the ridiculous expectations I had and expected of myself during the Holidays. Who cares if the meals we cook are not that great? Who cares if the ornaments on the tree are not perfectly proportional? Who cares if our house is a complete and utter mess? Who cares if I do not find the 'perfect' present for someone in my list? And then I realized, family and friends really do not care about these silly little things. All they really care about is spending time with each other. We do not have to be in the Philippines to experience the Christmas spirit and spend time with our kids, family, and friends. We have been blessed with three children and family and friends who genuinely care about us - there really is no better way to spend the Holidays but with them.

Though we may not be having a midnight meal soon and prefer celebrating Christmas early in the morning with the kids, and though we may not have a parol to hang on our porch (not this year anyway), one thing I know for certain is that the Filipino Christmas spirit is alive and well in our family. I just simply had to stop and relax in order to see it. And who knows, maybe one day we will have the opportunity to reunite with family in the Philippines and then my kids will get to experience a country whose people are known to celebrate Christmas for as long as possible - hey, Christmas carols start as early as October in the Phil!

Nevertheless, it was never about the location. Christmas in Canada brings its own joys and laughter. Imbued with the Canadian and Filipino spirit, our experiences just become that much more whole...and it all ultimately starts with us...with me. 

We spent the day of Christmas Eve visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens with grandpa Raymond to watch the model trains. Here are some photos we took while we were there. Merry Christmas everyone and we wish you all a Happy New Year!