Christmas is central to the Filipino culture. With a lifestyle and values extracted from the predominant religion, Catholicism, Christmas celebration is important to many Filipinos, or anybody who identifies with a Filipino heritage. After all, as tradition goes, Christmas is the day of the Christ’s birth who was the principal figure in the faith and whose event is undeniably best celebrated with loved ones. How can any real practicing Christian miss out on such a joyous and momentous occasion?
Yet, for some Filipinos in Australia to be with their families in the Philippines may seem to be a prospect that’s close to impossible. For the international students, this might imply the need to stay at a foreign land to finish some studies or simply to cut some cost on their finances. On the other hand, for the workers who are bound by a strict work agreement, this means having to celebrate Christmas away from home to honour their contract until it is fulfilled. Then, there are also those who are seemingly no longer fit for a long-distance travel such as what is typically the case among our elderly.
It is quite sad having to spend a supposed happy occasion away from our families. While giving away presents and then taking some may often be the best representation of a cheery Christmas, it is more than that. The event is also actually spiritual in nature, rather than a physical one.
For the Filipino-Australian communities, Christmas in a land relatively distinct from home does not have to be different from the way it is experienced. For instance, the tradition, “Simbang Gabi”—marked by a series of early masses—is as present in much of Australia as it is in the Philippines.
While the name itself is technically inaccurate when translated to English (“gabi” means “night” based on the Filipino language) and is better referred to with its original Spanish name (Misa de Gallo or “Mass of the Rooster”), there is something about Simbang Gabi that is truly special among devoted Catholics to a point of attending all masses, no matter how difficult it is sometimes to wake up very early.
Some Filipino families here also make do by preparing (or sometimes ordering) food to make Christmas nostalgic. Bibingka, leche flan, lumpiang shanghai, other kakanin still grace our meal tables during Christmas parties, if not our very own Noche Buena spreads.
However, in a world that is more connected than ever—thanks to the advances in science and technology—there is nothing that a video chat cannot bridge between people of different places. With the rampant choices of telecommunication apps to choose from, it is just a matter of picking up the phone or getting in front of the computer and a camera.
Ultimately, as we reach Christmas and the eventual end of the year, many Filipino-Australians are still hopeful for the best about the homeland. Seeing the better side of the more developed country such as Australia for comparison, issues regarding political corruption, better traffic, less pollution, and faster and more efficient processing of utility services and other documentations were the main highlights of our fellow Pinoys’ concern for the country from abroad.
— The Philippine Times, January 2019 Edition