MANILA, Philippines - For most Filipinos, Noche Buena and Christmas Day are spent going to mass and having lavish meals with both sides of the family.
But some families and groups of friends think out of the Christmas box.
1) 'Tara na, biyahe tayo'
Every 25th of December, my family goes to a place in the Philippines we’ve never been to.
The last decade saw us visit Batanes, Banaue, Bohol, Palawan, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Camiguin, among others. My parents don’t necessarily splurge on these trips; we’ve gone as close to our home such as Corregidor and Pagsanjan Falls.
My parents started this tradition because they believe that their 4 kids should get to know and fall in love with their own country before exploring other countries.
We always leave on Christmas Day because not a lot of people travel on the 25th, and we fly back home on the 29th, right before Rizal Day, which is when most people decide to go home.
2) Serving the servers
For Noche Buena, Maria Madara, 23, expands her definition of family — it extends beyond her immediate relatives.
“Instead of having the household helpers serve us, we serve them. They sit at our dining table and eat a feast,” she shares.
“Once midnight strikes, we have different games for them to play, with lots of prizes.”
Maria continues, “We play relay games or make them go on a scavenger hunt after we hide prizes at the bottom of the pool. The most popular game is called White Elephant, where they get to choose presents and steal presents from each other.”
3) Santa mom
“Up until I was 18, my mom made my sisters and I (they were 22 and 20 years old then), write letters to Santa,” says Eena Fortun, now 20.
Today, Eena’s mom no longer asks them to write letters, but she still hands them gifts saying they came from Santa.
“I think my mom misses having little children because we’re so big now,” Eana muses.
“We play along even if we don’t believe in Santa anymore.”
4) Love ko ‘to (kahit Pasko!)
When Vicky Cervantes, 26, was in high school, she and her family accidentally spent a Noche Buena in McDonald’s.
“All restaurants were closed, so we ended up going to McDo,” she explains. “Since then, we’ve been ordering McDonald’s on the 24th — and I’m in med school already!”
5) Friends are the family you choose
Stella Shaw, an entrepreneur, started celebrating Christmas Day with her high school barkada when they realized that all their families didn’t have traditional Christmas Day dinners.
“When we were in 4th year high school, we were all texting each other on Christmas Day, saying we were bored,” she recalls. “They came over to my house with leftovers from their Noche Buena parties. We ate from the containers they brought the food in at our small balcony.”
She says that her barkada has grown since then to accommodate girlfriends, boyfriends and college friends.
“But we still eat in our tiny balcony on Christmas Day,” she tells Rappler.
Likko Tiongson and his friends from Silliman University exchange gifts that are “old, special or sentimental.”
In their Christmas gatherings, they each bring something that defines who they are, something not necessarily new.
“One of my friends brought her Philippine Archery Team jacket that she had during the Doha Asian Games; another brought a rare Japanese beer bottle he got when he lived in Japan. One friend brought her trademark belt to give away," shares Likko.
"Everyone knew her because of that colorful belt, but she willingly gave it away."
They would put the items on a table, count to 10 and grab what they want.
“It’s hard to part with something special, but knowing that it now belongs to someone special who wants it more brings a whole new meaning to your friendship.” - Rappler.com
What about you and your family and friends? How do you celebrate your Christmas?
Tell us by sending your story and photos with subject heading RAPPLER CHRISTMAS to firstname.lastname@example.org.