Christmas season began on Sept. 1 and extends to Christmas day for Filipino students of BYU-Hawaii and returned missionaries who have served missions in Philippines. Special foods, gatherings and traditions are shared throughout the country.
Recalling the joy associated with the holidays, Russel Bajacan, a senior from the Philippines studying human resources said, “It starts on Sept. 1 and you can see Christmas lights and hear Christmas songs everywhere: in the malls, markets and schools. It’s the beginning of the spirit of Christmas. Throughout the Ber months, we believe in the spirit of giving and joy.”
With a twinge of nostalgia, Bajacan recounted how he misses celebrating Christmas in the Philippines. He said every Christmas, he looks forward to family gatherings when his family from abroad come together to celebrate Noche Buena. He said, “It’s a special Christmas dinner, and we have foods like queso de bola and lechon. It’s a big fiesta.”
Remembering his childhood during Christmas, Bajacan said, “Growing up and until now, we’ve had many Christmas parties. It was a lot of fun to give and receive gifts. Christmas in the Philippines is very different from Christmas in other countries. It’s something I always look forward to when I go back home. Just that very special, joyous time.”
Bajacan said like in America, caroling is a tradition in the Philippines. “I miss caroling. As a kid, we sang different songs to houses. The owners would come out and give gifts to the kids like candy or money. When I was growing up, my friends and I would go out every night to sing. Our favorite was ‘Jingle Bells.’”
According to Bajacan, songs from Filipino singer Jose Mari Chan, hit the airwaves. The singer covers Christmas songs like “Christmas in Our Hearts” and “Perfect Christmas” which are popular among Filipinos. Bajacan said, “A very famous song we grew up with is ‘Ang Pasko ay Kay Saya’. We would listen and sing it during the Ber Months.”
Bajacan said all Filipinos look forward to Christmas, “Whether they be rich or poor. It’s just very special for us. All of us look forward to seeing family and having parties.”
Devon Beatson, a junior from New Zealand studying psychology, said, “I served my mission in the Philippines San Pablo mission. I thought it was really cool that it was celebrated for so long. I love Christmas so it was an exciting thing to see.
“Probably my favorite experience was in one of my areas where they had full Christmas decorations up all over the city by like mid-October. I loved walking around at night and seeing all the decorations.”
Kathleen Cowan, a sophomore from New Zealand studying social work who served in the Philippines said, “I love the concept of Ber months and celebrating Christmas in a span of four months. It’s just a genius idea. I love Christmas. I just loved Ber months because everyone was having parties and making so much food, which made very happy, satisfied missionaries.”