This was the year when a lot of Christmas traditions were broken, due to the pandemic. There are cultural/country-specific Christmas traditions of course, but usually each person or family also has their own personal traditions that they do every Christmas. Here are some of mine:
- Christmas Eve dinner, or as it's popularly known here in the Philippines, noche buena.
- Growing up, our immediate family/household unit usually celebrates Christmas Eve with a late noche buena, an extra meal that happened after dinner and starting at around midnight. Then we'd open presents, usually with one of the uncles taking the role of "Santa Claus" and giving out gifts. And as kids, it was one night of the year where we were allowed to stay up late and play with the presents for a while. As we grew older, this usually meant playing video games for a few hours in the early morning!
- Typical noche buena food: some kind of bread, some kind of ham, some quezo de bola, some kind of pasta. Sometimes there's other stuff too like barbecue or soup, but those seem to be the mainstays.
- We kept this tradition when we moved out of my grandparents' house. This tradition only started changing recently, when my brothers all got married and moved out in the past 10 years. They still come to visit with the kids on Christmas eve, but we couldn't have the noche buena very late anymore, because they would need to drive back home, and some of the kids had early bedtimes. So the noche buena kind of got merged into the Christmas dinner.
- Usually we'd all be dressed in red and take a family photo in front of the Christmas tree
- This year, as you can imagine, we couldn't have that dinner together. Instead, my brothers came out on the morning of the 24th and we exchanged presents outdoors. It was the first time for the folks to see their grandkids in person a long while! We still had noche buena early (during dinner time), despite there only being three of us at home to celebrate.
- My mother's side extended family usually has a reunion on Christmas day itself, the one time of the year we all get together.
- We're talking a few dozen people (best estimate, the number grew a lot over the years, as some of my cousins were very, um, productive). When we used to live at my grandparents' house, it was easy, because everyone else came to us. When that house was sold, one of my other uncles/aunts/cousins usually hosted (our house was way too small), but that usually involved driving out to some far corner of the Metro. Far for us, at least. (Driving across the Metro on Christmas day was tough, and there were some years where some of us had to get a taxi, that always took forever).
- For the get-together itself, there's usually dinner, then some kind of party games or some cousins might be asked to perform, then presents exchange. We used to do the Santa Claus thing where one person stands in front of the tree and goes through the presents one by one and calls them out and the recipient comes forward and so on. But this didn't really scale as the extended family grew and grew. Later on, the present exchange became more "underground", with each household going around giving gifts to the others throughout the night.
- A tradition started by my grandfather was the "pasabog" where there would be a surprise throwing of money (usually coins or small bills) over the party area and everyone scrambled to grab some. My uncles carried on this tradition when my grandfather passed away, and in recent years my dad and I have been doing the pasabog ourselves (since at this point all of my uncles have passed away as well).
- We do a big family photo in this gathering too, but it's usually much more challenging since there's way more people.
- Obviously this year, the get together could not happen.
- I was also thinking the other day about how the people we greet on Christmas Eve/Day has evolved with technology.
- When I was young, we could only greet those people in our immediate household and sometimes the neighbors
- When cellphones became popular, people greeted each other through those. Usually people had limited SMS, so they'd only pick and choose who they could greet. And during those days in particular, network congestion was so bad, it would sometimes be hours before your messages got through. I got a cellphone late and was never much into SMS, so this period didn't last long for me.
- With the ubiquity of instant messaging these days, people just send greetings online, mostly to group chats and some to specific people (who are probably more "special" for you"). At least this is one tradition the pandemic can't take away.
Hopefully, our government manages to get its act together and get this pandemic under control as soon as possible, so we can resume our Christmas traditions next year!