If this is your first Christmas in the Philippines, you need not worry about spending it alone. Chances are, you will receive a flurry of invitations from friends and colleagues to spend the holidays with them and their families. If your friend or special someone has invited you, know that Christmas Eve dinner or Noche Buena in the Philippines is a festive occasion meant to be spent with family and specially invited guests, like you.
It all starts with blaring Christmas carols at malls in September, unmistakably signaling that the holiday season has begun! You will see sparkling Christmas trees, decor and lights everywhere, on houses and buildings, in mall atriums and hotel lobbies, and even on lampposts along streets. To state the obvious, Christmas is huge in the Philippines!
Joining your friend’s family for Christmas festivities will prove to be interesting and memorable. Here are some reminders to ensure that you make the most of the occasion:
1 Bring something to share
As most attendees will bring something to Christmas dinner, do bring an appetizer, a main dish, or some wine from your home country to share. You can make the table conversation more interesting if you can give a bit of background about the food or wine you brought and share its significance in your country. Large groceries or supermarkets like Rustan’s Supermarket in Century City Mall or Cash & Carry Supermarket have an array of products from countries all over the world. There are also specialty stores, which carry Korean, Japanese, and other Asian food items like ASSI Fresh Plaza on Neptune St., Makati or Teppen Korean & Japanese Grocery on V.A. Rufino Street, also in Makati.
2 Partake of the feast and merrymaking
At the party, be ready to try the various dishes laid out for dinner. Some of the popular dishes on the Filipino Noche Buena table include kaldereta, which is a tomato sauce-based stew that traditionally uses goat meat, and Lumpiang Shanghai, which is fried spring rolls filled with ground pork, minced onions and carrots, and spices, and served with chili sauce or banana ketchup on the side. An interesting Filipino dish is kare-kare, which is traditionally served on special occasions. It is a peanut-based stew with oxtail as the main protein. If you are allergic to peanuts, please let your host know! Pace yourself and leave room for dessert. Look out for Leche Flan, which is made from a mixture of egg yolks, condensed milk, fresh milk and a dash of vanilla extract, steamed into a firm flan in caramelized sugar syrup. You might also enjoy the Filipino Fruit Salad, which is fruit salad cocktail and nata de coco mixed in cream and condensed milk.
Once dinner is finished, folks will settle down and, most likely, someone will set up a karaoke machine, as singing is a Filipino national pastime. You might want to brush up on a couple of your favorite songs to regale your hosts and your newfound friends. Amidst all the fun, you’ll surely notice everyone taking lots of candid shots, group pictures and selfies, most of which will be posted on social media so do keep that smile on!
3 Be ready with Christmas presents
An important part of the Filipino Christmas tradition is giving “aguinaldo” or Christmas presents. At the stroke of midnight, hugs and kisses will be overflowing as everyone greets each other “Merry Christmas!” followed by the handing out of presents to one other. It would be kind of you to bring a present for your host and if your host has children, do bring something for them too. The presents need not be too expensive, but rather something thoughtful to make them smile. Don’t be surprised but part of giving “aguinaldo” also means some adults in the party will gift the children with some money for Christmas. The children can use the money they receive either to buy more presents or to save it by putting it in the bank. Christmas is truly a joyous occasion, a time when Filipinos give each other gifts to show their appreciation for loved ones and significant people in their lives.
4 Return the gesture
You would, of course, want to reciprocate your friend’s kind Yuletide gesture. Before leaving the party, invite your friend and his immediate family to a lunch get-together after New Year at your place. Whip up your specialty dishes so that they may have a taste from your own home. You could also gift them with a staycation at Siglo Suites. It would be a great start for the new year!