November 15, 2008

Do they know it's Christmas?

Growing up in three different cultures also meant growing up with three different sets of traditions. I have been often asked which culture our family follows. There is no simple answer to it. Being influenced by both my parents as well as the environment I grew up in, I have been shaped in this melting pot of languages, traditions and values. It’s confusing at times and one of the many reasons why I struggle with my multicultural identity. 

On the other hand I admit that is quite enriching. Aside from naturally speaking three languages as if they were native tongue, my life is filled with not only one culture and all it entails but three. I probably celebrate more holidays and rituals than a uniracial person. I use this to my advantage and choose the best of each of my cultural identities. Our household is far from common. The anticipation for Christmas is mostly celebrated in German style. Anything food related is strongly influenced by my father’s French heritage while the spiritual side and the strong family ties associated with Christmas are without a doubt a product of Filipino values.

In Manila, Christmas starts in September. I live in the country with the longest holiday season (all months ending in “ber”)! The insanity in the logic of the so-called “ber” months is a phenomenon I have yet to accustom myself with. A few weeks back, I passed by Rockwell where the lights have been mounted, then I strolled around High Street while workers were installing Santa Claus and his reindeers. I catch myself being contaminated with the happiness that comes from bright decors, melodious (though repetitive) carols and the occasional delight of chocolate crinkles and food for the gods. 

Christmas has taken over the country; 2 months ago to be exact. On roadsides vendors sell handmade parols (lanterns), houses compete for whoever can display the most lights. In malls, trees (fake of course!) are being set up and embellished with colorful poinsettias, Jingle Bells is blurting out of the speakers and people frantically start with the strenuous gift shopping. I know of people who are almost done with it! 

But aside from the commercial importance it’s mostly all about family, friends and traditions. Companies throw parties for their employees and families bond over their faith during sibang gabi, a nine-day pre-dawn mass service before Christmas Eve. My parents and sister are coming over this year. This will be our first Christmas together in 4 years! Although I found a surrogate family in D and his relatives, I feel that this particular holiday season is going to be complete again; just the way it should be. 

We will eat a scrumptious meal on Christmas Eve, attend mass, open our gifts and take silly pictures. We will join the annual family clan xmas party together the next day and eat plenty more, while complaining about how tiring these extended family events are. On New Year’s Eve we’ll eat some more, promising ourselves that diet as soon as 2009 comes along and we’ll jump at the stroke of midnight with money in our pockets and wearing clothes with dots, wishing for good fortune. The festive feel is stronger here than anywhere else I know. And that’s just the Filipino part of it all! That being said, I'm setting up my plastic Christmas tree next week.

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