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Explaining Christmas terms: A dad’s attempt

Michael G. Yu
Santa is a Western Christmas concept. The challenge my wife and I have is to keep them grounded on the traditions of our country, without isolating them from how Christmas is celebrated in other ways.

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS... Author Michael Yu's daughter, Kiara, perhaps thinking of a warmer Christmas. Photo by Michael Yu

MANILA, Philippines – My two-year-old daughter has begun asking questions about Christmas.

She has, for example, just recently grasped the concept of being “nice, not naughty” so she can get a gift from Santa Claus.

When asked what gift she wanted she replied “cake,” limited perhaps by her vocabulary. Her lola found that irresistibly cute and immediately volunteered to get one for her. (Next year, I will make sure my daughter knows how to say “house and lot.”)

But Santa is a Western Christmas concept. The challenge my wife and I have is to keep them grounded on the traditions of our country, without isolating them from how Christmas is celebrated in other ways.

Here’s my attempt at explaining to them:

1) Santa Claus 

An imaginary character that doesn’t exist. He delivers gifts to all the good kids around the world on Christmas Eve. He’s a big, fat, happy guy in tights (or what Mom calls Dad when he’s wearing his 3-year-old pair of jeans).

Not to be confused with the summer festival called “santacruzan.” Fiesta ‘yan ng mga dalagita at beki, anak. (That’s a feast attended by single ladies and gays, my child.)

2) Ninong/Ninang (Godparents)

Imaginary characters that don’t exist at Christmas time, usually to get away from the obligation of giving…

3) Aguinaldo

A monetary Christmas gift, usually for children/godchildren.

4) Misa de Gallo/Simbang Gabi

The Spanish term translates to “Rooster’s Mass.” For most people, it’s a 9-day early morning novena before the 25th of December to prepare for Christ’s birth.

For teenagers, it’s an excuse to get out of the house before dawn to socialize, usually outside the church, around makeshift tables on which you will find…

5) Bibingka

Delicious, fluffy Filipino rice cakes cooked with rice flour in clay pots and eaten with butter and coconut.

For all you teenage girls, if an overzealous rooster approaches you and says, “I see you like bibingka, can I get that for you?” go ahead and knee him in his…

6) Puto bumbong 

Sticky, elongated rice cake eaten with sugar or coconut traditionally cooked in bamboo (kawayan or bumbong).

7) Jingle Bells 

Popular Christmas carol referring to the tinkling sound of the bells attached to Santa’s sleigh while flying through the air delivering gifts.

Can also refer to the sound you hear from the bathroom, where your titos have to go often after having too much to drink while at…

8) Noche Buena

A joyous, traditional meal with family during Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is usually held close to, or at the stroke of, midnight and lasts for hours.

During the rest of the year, when you catch Daddy eating late in the evening, that is just a “midnight snack.”

9) Frosty

Name of the snowman that magically came to life. (In the Philippines, can refer to the scantily clad girls that magically appear along Quezon Avenue late at night.)

10) Ho, Ho, Ho!

The famous laugh of Santa Claus. (Or in American slang, 3 frosties.)

11) Mistletoe 

A concept that comes from the West. A branch is hung from a ceiling or doorway and if you are caught standing under it, someone has the right to kiss you.

If that someone gets too frisky, use your toe to kick him where it matters.

Hmm. Something tells me I should leave teaching the kids about Christmas to my wife. Even if I so much as attempt to teach them, I fear for my own safety.

12) Queso de bola

As the name implies, cheese shaped into a ball, usually served during noche buena with hamon. – Rappler.com


(Michael G. Yu currently works for a Chinese-owned multinational company in Hong Kong as head of Corporate Human Resources. Other blog entries he has written for Rappler are: Mornings as meant to be, Soc Villegas, autism and the challenges of parenthoodThe evolution of diaper changingOn the outside looking in and A belated Christmas, among others.)