Christmas in a Filipino home

Photo by James Sarmiento

It is December and that means Christmas decorations are seen in the neighbourhood and those “fa la la” songs are playing in the mall. Families get together in this special season to enjoy their home-cooked meals, gifts from their loved ones and also family tradition.

Filipino homes celebrate this special season with a little variance. Audrey Radstake, Stefanie Baltasar and Ron Darvin tell their Christmas stories and their connection with Filipino cultural heritage.

Blessings, pancit, lechon

Radstake, a second-year Economics major at SFU, describes her family’s annual activities. Church is her first place to visit on Christmas.

“We go to church on the 24th at 5 A.M. for Simbang Gabi, or ‘church night’,” she says. “And then I visit all of my grandmother’s siblings’ houses and send [them] blessings.”

Her family serves a unique mix of Filipino dishes on Christmas day.

“We eat spaghetti (filipino style), lechon (roasted pig), bbq, pancit,” she says.

Revealing the secret ingredient to her Filipino spaghetti, Radstake says her family makes their own version of sweet sauce and hot dogs. “Lechon” is another special dish served on Christmas.

“Lechon is like a “festival” meal or for special occasions such as birthdays,” she explains. “And then we have dessert called halo halo, it’s shaved ice with fruits and milk.”

Baltasar, a third-year Health Science major at SFU, says on Christmas she and her family often go to church.

“The first thing we do for Christmas celebration is usually [go] to Mass (my family is Catholic), after which we either go home or to my uncle’s for Christmas dinner,” says Baltasar.

On the topic of Filipino cuisine, she reveals her family often cooks meals with their recipes in mind.

“There’s usually ham and pancit (noodles), but the other dishes vary from year to year because my family loves cooking anything they’re in the mood for,” she says.

Pancit, a Filipino holiday favourite. | Photo by Iris Young

Baltasar also elaborated more on pancit – a Filipino noodle dish her family serves on Christmas.

“It’s one of the most common noodle dishes in the Filipino community,” she says.

According to Baltasar, there’s many variations of pancit.

“There’s a few variations of pancit, like pancit palabok or pancit canton,” she says. “Pancit canton is usually the one Filipinos would call just pancit. It’s made with two kinds of noodles, a thin one called bihon and a thicker one. Then vegetables like green beans and carrots, sometimes shrimp or pork can be added or it can be left vegetarian,” she says.

Baltasar reveals other dishes often found at their holiday table.

“Some staples are rice, puto − filipino dessert which is like a sweet steamed rice flour-based bun − and ham,” she says.

Karaoke and midnight gifts

After a full meal, the Baltasar family usually gathers together to do activities.

“We then just kind of hang out, usually my uncle breaks out the magic mike for karaoke,” she says.

When it comes to the routine of gift opening, Baltasar thinks her family does this earlier than most other homes do.

“Midnight is when we can open presents. I’m not sure when that tradition started, where we don’t wait until Christmas morning to open presents; but in my family we open them at midnight/past midnight,” says Baltasar. “Family celebrations run pretty late on Christmas and New Year’s.”

Ron Darvin, a PhD candidate in Language and Literacy Education at UBC, joins his family for a hearty meal on Christmas Eve. He looks forward to welcoming a new member this year.

“This year, there’s one addition to the family − my husband, Mike − and I’m excited for him to be part of this tradition,” he says.

Tasty treats are always a spotlight after dinner for Darvin.

“Close to midnight, we have some ensaimada, a buttery brioche sprinkled with cheese, and queso de bola, a sharp hard cheddar, and binatirol, hand-whisked hot chocolate,” he says. “At midnight, we exchange our gifts and hug each other, and have a glass of wine to celebrate being together in a season of giving,” says Darvin.

Baltasar joins the others in summarizing the meaning of Christmas.

“It’s just a lot of family bonding time for the most part,” she says.