In the Philippines, to say that the Christmas season is a long-awaited holiday would be an understatement. Filipinos are known to start the all-familiar countdown to Christmas as soon as the “Ber” months begin. For many, the Christmas season is one packed with family get-togethers and parties. This seemingly inherent reverence for the Christmas holidays is truly difficult to separate from a Filipino no matter where they are.
Near, far, but mostly far
For Daniel Trinidad, a user interface design specialist who has been working abroad in Malaysia for five years, it is especially hard to have lived all your life in a place as festive as the Philippines and then move to a place where the Christmas spirit isn’t as effervescent. “[I feel] homesick, especially in a Muslim-majority country where Christmas isn’t as festive as the Philippines,” he shares.
For most people, being away from loved ones doesn’t get easier over time. Ramon Noel Salvio, a Bacolod-born seafaring merchant of over 25 years, is no stranger to the hardship of working overseas. Though sailing the world has its own perks, the distance between him and his family and the time spent away are excruciatingly high prices to pay—a tradeoff he is constantly reminded of.
“The hardest part is being physically away from [your] family, not seeing [your] child grow up, and not [being] able to attend important activities in [their] school,” Ramon shares. For an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) like him, the feeling of belongingness is amplified during the holidays. The longer you are away, the harder it gets—there’s just no getting used to it.
Simple tidings of comfort and joy
Packing one’s bags, leaving home, and working abroad is not easy, which is why the little things that ease the struggle to any degree is always welcome. Technological advancements in the form of gadgets and the internet have made distance and time less of a barrier, unlike in the past. Ramon finds that it’s “more convenient” to connect with his family on a daily basis through video calls.
However, despite the little things that make life separate from loved ones a bit more bearable, nothing beats actually being with them physically. Early on every year, Ramon discusses with his company if he can be available to visit his family during the holidays, “I try to plan ahead of time [such that] the contract of employment that I get is not until December.”
His 17-year-old niece, Ciaria Salvio, who lives in Bacolod, is on the other side of the OFW struggle as many of her relatives are working abroad and in Manila. Though she is no stranger to the hardship of being away from loved ones, she has also become well-acquainted with the resilient spirit her seaman father embodies as an OFW.
She recalls Christmas in 2015 when her father’s ship happened to dock in Pangasinan while she and her other family members were en route to Manila to visit a relative who passed away. Ciaria, her siblings, and their mother decided at the last minute to visit the seafarer in his ship.
“We weren’t able to celebrate Christmas together for a long time because his ship [couldn’t stay long], but [at least then] we got to see him,” she shares. Even though the visit lasted just two days, Ciaria treasures this memory, and subsequently remembers to cherish every Christmas day onward.
A season of reconnection
Schedules do not always line up among families over the holidays, so sometimes adjustments are made during the Christmas season to compensate. Little moments of home during this season of togetherness and family can bring about a feeling of rejuvenation that sustains one’s drive to continue to work overseas for their loved ones.
Daniel expresses how the effort put in by his family to keep in constant communication during the holidays while he is physically away puts his heart at ease. “It feels great, too, that people do reach out and make Christmas special, even though we are miles apart,” he happily shares.
For Ciaria and her sister, Noriel, the Christmas season is a celebration for the family. The two look forward to Christmas every year because of the opportunity for the family to be complete, saying, “Christmas is a holiday where people celebrate togetherness, camaraderie, and the birth of Jesus Christ.” Christmas, for them, is a season to reconnect with loved ones and to shower them with the love and thanks they deserve.
The limited amount of time that OFWs spend with their families during the year only heightens the feeling of love when they are together. For Noriel, this small window of togetherness strengthens familial bonds and gives everyone an extra push of motivation that can spill into the following year. “[Christmas] gives way to a new and fresh start,” she says.
‘Tis the season
Christmas in the Philippines is a festive and well-loved celebration all throughout the later half of the year. As famous festive songs often dictate, for many, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year—meant to be celebrated with loved ones.
The demands of our modern world impose distance from our loved ones. OFWs sacrifice quality time with their loved ones by providing for them from afar. Each family has their own way of coping with that absence. Every shared moment, be it physically or through the aid of technology, encapsulates the spirit of Christmas for loved ones near and far.