What Matters Now: How To Honor Christmas Traditions In the Pandemic

How will Filipinos honor their treasured traditions this season?

At this time of the year, people are flocking to malls and stores to scour for last-minute Christmas gifts. Others are traveling to spend the holidays with their loved ones in another destination. Christmas is the busiest time of the year, but with the pandemic, people have been staying indoors. Most of us have to reinvent our traditions. We keep creating new ways to celebrate, all without letting the pandemic dampen our enthusiasm. Nicole Tantoco-de los Reyes and Suzette Ayson talk about how they keep their Christmas traditions alive. Be it through Zoom parties or traditional Noche Buena, the spirit of Christmas persists this year.

LEFT: Nicole Tantoco-de los Reyes. RIGHT: Suzette Ayson.

Treasured traditions

Christmas is not only about celebrations, but about gift-giving. For Suzette Ayson, her family and their company JMA Jewelry have kept a tradition of handing out presents. “[The] management of JMA personally shops and prepares for [our] employees’ Christmas party complete with games, raffle prizes, and bonuses,” she shares. It is in their culture that everyone would return home bringing with them happiness.

After bringing joy to others, it is now time for Suzette to focus on her family. They prioritize thanksgiving and prayers. So, on the morning of the 24th, they attend mass and before midnight, they pray the rosary to give “as a thanksgiving to God for all the blessings.” What follows is a typical feast and opening of presents when midnight strikes.

Similarly, Nicole Tantoco-delos Reyes and her family call forth the spirit of joy during the season. As big family reunions are staples in the Filipino culture, Nicole and her family visit their great grandfather’s home for Christmas and dinner. “After dinner, the grown-ups play Tombola, an Italian version of Bingo, and my aunts organize some games for the kids to play as we wait for midnight to strike. Then, Noche Buena is served,” she shares with enthusiasm.

A Christmas tradition unique to the Tantocos is having the grandchildren receive a present from their great grandfather. “Even if he is 99 [years old] and our family keeps growing, he knows everyone’s names and faces,” Nicole muses.

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The Ayson family. Left to right: Cheskie, Suzette, Trish, Arnold, and Stephanie.

A bountiful feast

Every Noche Buena in a Filipino household carries certain staples like a holiday ham, Lechon or pork, pork barbecue, fried chicken, and fruit salad. Christmas wouldn’t be complete without indulging in a mix of these savory and sumptuous dishes. Nicole’s house is no different—this year, they would still have their mouthwatering Jamon and rich Queso de Bola.

For Suzette’s family, they would add their traditional dishes from the region of Pampanga. “[I follow] the recipes that my mom taught me,” says Suzette, “the Liga soup (slow-cooked beef, pork, chicken meat and bone, and ham [topped] with assorted vegetables).” They would also have lemon buttered prawns, roast beef, embutido, and “and my mom’s special recipe of tibok-tibok [Carabao’s milk pudding] complete the feast.”

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The de los Reyes family: Nicole, Miko, and their daughter, Gianna Noelle.

Reinventing celebration

Before the pandemic, Suzette and her family would go out of town. It can be in “Boracay or our beach house in Calatagan to celebrate, relax, and prepare ourselves for the new year,” she elaborates. However, as travel poses a high risk for contact with COVID-19, their family will remain in their home. “It will just be my immediate family minus my daughter Cheskie and my son-in-law Cito who are both based in Singapore and minus my mom who passed away exactly [five] months ago,” she explains. They may not be in the presence of their relatives, but they will still celebrate through video calls with them.

Likewise, Nicole reflects on how they wouldn’t be able to hold their family reunion this year. Nevertheless, she is looking forward to seeing and catching up with them through Zoom. “It’s out of tradition but somehow still in keeping with it,” she says.

Although this season is definitely different, families can still keep their Christmas traditions alive. By being creative through Noche Buena, presents, or entertaining activities, Christmas will still be wonderful this year.

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