“Christmas here in Canada is very much like that which I used to watch in the movies: snow, pine trees… all the works. And, I think we’re just so close to the North Pole too,” Tina said while she tightened the scarf around her neck. “But, you know what, I won’t trade Christmas back home for all these — if only I had the luxury to choose.” Tina works as a nurse in Canada. She is just one of the thousands of Filipinos who embark on a thousand-mile journey in the hopes of providing the family with a brighter future.
Despite the cold climate, December has always been warm. It has the warmth of family and friends — the warmth which many Filipinos abroad sorely miss especially during Christmas.
“I have been here in the US for more than a decade now. The pay is good and I have been able to provide for my kids the conveniences that I couldn’t have if I were not here. I used to call or chat with them every Christmas but it has gotten rarer as the years passed. Time and distance have this rueful magic which, perhaps, makes the mind forget. Or, maybe not. Perhaps, they simply got used to the idea of us not together and they learned to live with it. But still, I miss my family a lot,” Rick narrated how the promise of a green card and better living forced him to sacrifice much of his life — his family.
Christmas has always been my favorite memory — and probably to many others too. The nicely-wrapped gifts from Ninong and Ninang. The colorful lanterns and the blinking lights around that big tree by the church. The dull rattle of hammered bottle caps accompanying the usual out-of-tune carols and poor diction. The interesting tableaux of the manger made of recyclable materials displayed along the main thoroughfares in the city. All these and the general air of joy and gratitude constitute vivid remembrances of the happiest time of the year. All these are never the same when you are miles and miles away from home. All these and the warm smiles and familiar faces are all wisps of air blown away along deep sighs and grief into the cold.
“Looking at the photos my kids sent me during Christmas, I couldn’t help but cry. I used to help them prepare our noche buena. I used to wake them up and drag them to church for simbang gabi. And, now they are doing all of those on their own. My eldest daughter even sent one photo of the family sitting on the couch and I was there smiling — it was photoshop-ed,of course, and was badly done at that, but it was the best gift I’ve received since I worked here in Kuwait,” Linda shared how Christmas is away from home.
Generally, Filipinos are closely-knitted families. Lolos and Lolas, Titos and Titas, Ninongs and Ninangs gather to celebrate Christmas. We exchange gifts, play our favorite parlor games, go to simbang gabi together and eat as a big happy family. We are wont to saying that preparation doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we are together on Christmas — though reality is often otherwise. As breadwinners, we often brave the cold winter in a foreign country just to put food on the table. That is the ultimate sacrifice many Filipinos give for the family. After all, we simply want the best for those whom we love.
“I wanted to watch my children grow. I wanted to be with them during special occasions. I wanted to be there and celebrate important milestones in their lives. But, life makes choices for me and when it does, I can never say no,” Roy said while waiting for his kids to be on Skype.
Pat works as a caregiver in the US for more than five years now. He is single and has been living independently in many foreign countries for over a decade. Yet, in every Christmas of all the years that have passed, there hasn’t been one when he could talk about Christmas without shedding a tear or two. “I am a proud independent man. I live life the way I want it. I take hold of life by the tail and show it who’s boss. But, every Christmas, I cry like some ninny in some itchy bloomers,” he said trying to hold back the tears, “there is no place like home… especially during Christmas.”