What is ‘noche buena’ like?
When I was in elementary and high school, one of the biggest questions that we needed to answer come January was how we celebrated Christmas Eve. I always wrote in my essay that there was delicious food and I received gifts from my parents.
But all that was a lie. I was afraid my classmates would laugh at me if I said we only had instant noodles and rice. I only got the opportunity to mingle with my cousins, friends in the neighborhood, and attended parties in our community during Christmas.
Growing up, “ber” months, especially December, were normal for my nuclear family. To tell you honestly, we do not usually celebrate Christmas Eve.
We do not have delicious food during noche buena, not for religious reasons but for financial. We do not even have Christmas trees or lights decorating our home every year.
While our neighbors have extravagant displays inside and outside their residences and loud karaoke, my siblings and I wonder when we will have one.
Since my father is a security guard in a hotel in our province, he does not usually spend Christmas Eve with us as he needs to work at night. That is why my siblings, my beloved mother, and I would just have a simple dinner the way we usually do, and sleep early.
My siblings and I do not hold grudges toward our parents, as we understand our social and economic status. I am not even insecure about my friends online who post what they eat during noche buena.
I am not ungrateful because many more Filipino families face difficulties providing for their food daily. Many of us are in the same boat and just have a simple dinner during the holidays.
We only get to eat delicious food and exchange gifts when we attend Christmas and thanksgiving parties at school, community, extended family, and church. I know and understand that we cannot yet afford to have one inside our home.
But I cannot deny that I always wonder about the feeling of celebrating noche buena the way socialites and middle-class families do. Will I feel the essence of Christmas by merely having colorful decorations in our house and eating something we do not usually have during dinner? I wish I know the answer.
As I write this piece, I wonder, are these the only things that excite us during holidays? I believe, for a collectivist individual like myself, the presence of my family during this special season is more important.
As a kid, we have expectations of how this special season should be celebrated such as receiving gifts or toys from our parents. But in my reality, we have to carol with my friends and my siblings for us to buy what we would like to have.
Our society has dictated that Christmas should be celebrated like this or like that, not considering the social status of every family. We should not ostracize those who have a different experience during noche buena or the holidays.
Sometimes our “ninongs” and “ninangs” or our godparents are the ones who give us “aguinaldo.” But we do not receive money or gifts from them all the time. To be honest, I am not expecting from them every year as I know that they also have a family.
Also, I am not comfortable accepting gifts from my aunts and uncles as I understand how hard it is to earn money. But I accept whatever they give, as I am grateful that they have something for me. They might perceive me as ungrateful if I do not.
I am not sad about my childhood experience or how we usually celebrate Christmas. I am happy despite our adversities and grateful to my family, as we are still united despite the hardships thrown at us. I have witnessed how my parents work hard for us to provide for our basic needs.
As long as my parents support us with our dreams and aspirations and they are healthy, I am contented and happy. I believe that the true essence of this season is to treasure and be thankful for what we have.
I wish I dared to tell my teacher and classmates that we do not celebrate Christmas the way others do when I was a kid. I wish I did not need to lie just to impress my classmates and get a good score.
I think it would have been nice if I explained that not all children get to celebrate noche buena because of many factors. In this way, it would have been normalized in our school to hear stories about experiencing not-so-splendid holidays. But at least I have written this piece, right?
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Edmar delos Santos, 21, is a communication student at Mariano Marcos State University.
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