Christmas is the most celebrated and recognized tradition throughout the world. Many companies and institutions hold annual get-togethers to celebrate their fortunes. December is the month when everybody is wealthy; gifts are plentiful thanks to 13th month pay and other bonuses distributed throughout the month. The tradition is based in religious context, with Roman Catholics and Christians recognizing the birth of Jesus Christ; which is amusing when agnostic or atheist colleagues express excitement for Christmas parties and bonuses.
Despite our beliefs, however, it is a month of thanksgiving, where everyone communes to give thanks to those who made the season a remarkable one.
What makes the Pinoy experience difference? In the absence of snow, Christmas is a family celebration. Everybody gets together for Noche Buena to eat and enjoy the cool breeze, Jose Mari Chan songs, Christmas carols, and decorations. These traditions were evident prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
Filipino tribes often gathered and celebrated their abundance in blessings. They would gather around a bonfire, perform ritual dances, and share roast pig (what we know today as lechon).
The Ibalois, a group indigenous to northern Luzon, celebrate Cañao, their form of thanksgiving. There are several types of celebrations and among the most extravagant is Pechit, or Pesshet, which entails feeding the entire neighborhood, sacrificing animals, and making offerings of rice wine (or tapuy).
Rituals are performed to appease the spirits, seek approval, or to give thanks. Tapuy is essential as rice was a special commodity in the past is only served on special occasions.
Some celebrations last a whole week.
Sociologist Émile Durkheim characterized this type of solidarity as “mechanical solidarity,” where individuals help each other out and perform the same duties, such as gathering resources – a mechanism that holds society together. The Spanish exacerbated the practice and incorporated Christianity. The merging of the two led to enculturation, when traits are acquired from different cultures, resulting in the celebrations of fiestas and Christmas.
The real essence of “Paskong Pinoy” is the family returning home for the holiday regardless of expense since what matters most is seeing each other smile. With outreach programs for the less privileged so prevalent, this collective consciousness creates a national belief that Christmas is the most joyous time of the year.
In terms of sociology, the family is crucial in society. Culture is attached to religion, where family is the centerpiece – similar to Belen, or the Nativity. Belen symbolizes a family gathered to welcome the gift of humanity.
We may differ in religion but, during the yuletide season, our solidarity as Filipinos emerges.
It is a time to recover and be happy. As we open Christmas gifts, may we always remember the excitement experienced as a child on Christmas morning. Just like the early Filipinos, we still practice a Christmas of humanity.
The essence of Paskong Pinoy: Ako para sa aking kapwa./WDJ