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Celebrating Christmas in A Non-Christian Country

By Maan D’Asis Pamaran

It is hard to be away from our loved ones during the most wonderful time of the year. With many Filipinos living abroad to fulfill their dreams for their families, Christmas brings about a hankering for home, with traditions that have been observed through the ages that make our celebrations one of the most festive the world over. 

Even more challenging is living in a country where Christmas is not celebrated because of religious reasons. With many OFWs based in places where Christianity is not the predominant religion, there are less vestiges of the holidays to be experienced at their place of work. Can a Noche Buena be the same wherever you are? We ask these OFWs who are working in the food and beverage industry at non-Christian countries about how they bring the Filipino brand of celebration to the holidays.    

Larry CrisiniSUPER FINAL 2

I’ve been working as an OFW for 19 years now. I’m a chef at Mu Restaurant in Kuwait, where we specialize in American-Asian street food. There is another Filipino working here, he is our chef de partie. 

All these Christmases past, I have been missing many of the traditions that we observe in the Philippines like Christmas parties with friends and relatives, and Simbang Gabi. I observe the Kuwaitis are not strict with our Christmas celebrations in the OFW community, because they see it to be fun. We have Noche Buena here too, which we hold earlier because we are five hours ahead compared to the Philippines. In the Filipino Chef Society Kuwait where I am the vice president, we throw a simple feast and even invite non-members who wish to join us. In our flats and villas, we cook hamon, turkey, spaghetti, barbecue, and the ever-present keso de bola, buko salad, leche flan, and gulaman.


 

 

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Richard Ricalde

I’ve been working here in the United Arab Emirates for almost 14 years, particularly as a chef in the hospitality industry. When Christmas comes around, it is when I miss my nanay, my bunso, and friends the most. I would always think about our Christmas traditions like carolling, chasing after ninongs and ninangs for Aguinaldo, and the food at our gatherings.

I’m based in Sharjah, and most of my colleagues are Filipinos. There are around eight of us. They are not that strict about Christian traditions, as some malls, hotels, and restaurants put up decorations and give out promos connected to the holidays. 

We seldom celebrate Christmas, though. Most of the time, my wife and I have work during the holiday season. If we have time, then I would cook some dishes for my wife and son. I would make them turkey if time permits me.


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Sheila MaƱalac

I have been working overseas, particularly in Indonesia, for over four years. I spent two years in Jakarta as a marketing manager for an education-provider and corporate training company. I’m now in Bali, pursuing a public relations profession. During my first year here, I worked for a local wine company and afterward, for a luxury hotel. I’ve been living on the island for almost two and a half years now. I’m the only Filipino in my workplace.

As we know, Filipinos have a close affinity to family, and this is what I miss the most. Christmas parties are also abundant in the Philippines, and it is during this season when gatherings of distant relatives and friends happen. It’s these reunions I miss the most.

Indonesia is one of the biggest Muslim countries in the world, yet I have to say, the Muslims keep an open mind when it comes to celebrating different religious holidays. Christmas is still visible around the country, though minimal compared what we have at home. You won’t see much Christmas lights or decor on the streets, and the vibe is not the same. 

I have spent four Christmases in Indonesia already. Some are good, while others are quiet. I lived with Filipinos while I was in Jakarta, so we all celebrated Christmas together. When someone from the Philippines visits, then we all get together and have Noche Buena. We would go to mass on Dec. 25, followed by lunch or dinner at a restaurant.

The only Christmas I spent alone was when I moved to Bali. I was at my rented home, eating nasi goreng and afterward, I went to sleep. It was raining quite hard and I didn’t know anyone on the island. The next Christmas, I was working in the hotel, and it was a more festive celebration with colleagues and hotel guests. For this year, my parents are flying in and we are spending Christmas lunch at a friend’s villa. Basically, we expats, foreigners, and local friends all come together at a place and share food and celebrate Christmas together.

We have a mixture of Filipino and Indonesian food, depending on who is hosting the gathering. While we had the latter during my first Christmas in Jakarta, the following year’s celebration was filled with Filipino food like keso de bola. Since this year’s hosts are my Australian friends, we will be having an Aussie barbecue of different meats.

See more at: Manila Bulletin

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