What does the “noche buena” look like?

When I was in primary and secondary school, one of the biggest questions we had to answer in 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 it was all a lie. I was afraid my classmates would laugh at me if I said we only had instant noodles and rice. I only had the opportunity to mingle with my cousins, neighborhood friends and attend parties in our community at Christmas.

Growing up, the “ber” months, especially December, were normal for my nuclear family. To tell you honestly, we don’t usually celebrate Christmas Eve.

We don’t have delicious food during the noche buena, not for religious reasons but for financial reasons. We don’t even have Christmas trees or lights that decorate our house every year.

While our neighbors have extravagant displays inside and outside their residences and loud karaoke, my siblings and I wonder when we’ll get one.

As my father is a security guard in a hotel in our province, he does not usually spend Christmas Eve with us because he has to work at night. That’s why my brothers and sisters, my beloved mother and I usually only ate dinner, and slept early.

My siblings and I hold no grudges against our parents, as we understand our social and economic status. I’m not even scared of my friends online posting what they eat during the noche buena.

I am not ungrateful because many more Filipino families are struggling to meet their daily food needs. Many of us are in the same boat and just have a simple dinner while on vacation.

We can only eat delicious food and exchange gifts when we attend Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations at school, in the community, in extended family, and at church. I know and understand that we cannot yet afford to have one inside our house.

But I can’t deny that I still wonder about the feeling of celebrating the noche buena the way socialites and middle-class families do. Am I going to feel the essence of Christmas just by having colorful decorations in our house and eating something we don’t normally eat for dinner? I would like to know the answer.

As I write this article, I wonder, are these the only things that turn us on during the holidays? I believe that for a collectivist individual like me, the presence of my family during this special season is more important.

As children, 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 sing with my friends and siblings to buy what we would like to have.

Our society has dictated that Christmas should be celebrated like this or like that, regardless of the social status of each family. We must not ostracize those who have a different experience during the noche buena or the holidays.

Sometimes it is our “ninongs” and “ninangs” or our godparents who give us “aguinaldo”. But we don’t get money or gifts from them all the time. To be honest, I don’t expect them every year because I know they have a family too.

Also, I’m not comfortable accepting gifts from my aunts and uncles because I understand how hard it is to earn money. But I accept whatever they give me, because I’m grateful they have something for me. They might perceive me as ungrateful if I don’t.

I am not sad about my childhood experience or the way we usually celebrate Christmas. I am happy despite our adversities and grateful to my family, because we are always united despite the hardships imposed on us. I witnessed how my parents work hard for us to provide our basic needs.

As long as my parents support us in our dreams and aspirations and they are healthy, I am content and happy. I believe the true essence of this season is to cherish and be grateful for what we have.

I would like to dare to tell my teacher and my classmates that we do not celebrate Christmas like the others did when I was a child. I wish I didn’t have 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 can celebrate la noche buena because of many factors. That way, it would have been normal at our school to hear stories about not-so-splendid vacations. But at least I wrote this piece, didn’t I?

Edmar delos Santos, 21, is a communications student at Mariano Marcos State University.

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