Belen, parol, kids caroling, Christmas songs blasting as early as September, simbang gabi, noche buena and the list goes on for the things that would remind us of the Pinoy Christmas season. Then we think of the dreamy, white Christmases we read in books or see on the tube or big screens. Thankfully, I had the opportunity of celebrating two Yuletide seasons outside our tropical archipelago. But even across the globe, there were still touches of the Filipino Christmas spirit.
Vatican City: December 2005
A couple of days before Christmas, we were at the St. Peter’s Square which was filled with tourists as well as the faithfuls. It was being prepared in time for the Mass to be officiated by the Pope.
Milan, Italy: December 2005
Christmas trimmings and huge pine trees adorned the Galleria which housed high-end fashion shops. In the evening, we were welcomed by the Jimenez family to their flat where we had a mini-feast of Italian staple.
Torino, Italy: December 2005
My family celebrated Christmas with our relatives based in the northern Italian city. We had a mix of Filipino and Italian traditions. We attended Christmas mass at the Filipino chaplaincy. The chaplaincy won’t be complete without the Belen. We saw a lot of Filipinos inside the church. After the mass, we had a typical Italian meal at my cousin’s flat --- salami, risotto, cotechino (spiced sausage) Antonio’s (cousin’s hubby) spaghetti, my cousin’s lasagna, meat loaf, salad, panettone and panna cotta. And we toasted to glasses of Asti, which became my favorite. And since this was Torino, we popped gianduiotto into our mouths every now and then.
Other traditions: The kids believed in Babbo Natale or Father Christmas. The celebration won’t be complete without the exchanging and giving of presents. I got a silver bracelet from Antonio and a beautiful red sweater from my cousin Lita. And it’s a holiday the day after Christmas, it being St. Stephen’s or Boxing Day.
Although it was December and Torino was the site of the Winter Olympics, not a single snowflake was in sight. It was a chilly season but not too cold as I expected.
Vienna, Austria: December 2005
After a day stop in Venice, we proceeded to Vienna. We were welcomed by the Magno family. And it was here where I experienced my first snow. Not just any snow but almost close to a snowstorm. I was chilling all over but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the tourist spots within the Ring as well as explore the UN Office and enjoy the strudel and snitzchel.
Paris, France: New Year’s Day 2006
Before the clock struck midnight, our plane touched down at the Charles de Gaulle airport. Everybody inside the aircraft clapped and sang to greet the new year. First morning of 2006, it was drizzling. Since it was a holiday, the train rides were free. We immediately proceeded to the Eiffel Tower. The ground was wet (because it had been raining). Broken bottles were strewn all over, signs of the midnight merry making. At dusk we found ourselves inside the Notre Dame and later walked by the River Seine.
Sweden: December 2006
The people in Sweden always looked forward to the annual Christmas display at the NK Department Store. In 2006, the store's theme was pepparkakor.
Photo courtesy of Joel Bagon
Photo courtesy of Joel Bagon
Pasko ng Bayan
Filipinos in Stockholm need not feel blue during Christmas. The Pasko ng Bayan is an annual gathering of Filipinos and friends of Pinoys in Sweden hosted by the Philippine Embassy.
In 2006, the Pasko ng Bayan was held at the Stadion. Booths, where a variety of Filipino dishes were sold, lined up the hall.
And just like any Pinoy Christmas party, prizes were raffled off and corporate knick-knacks were given away. Filipinos and Swedes alike entertained the crowd with their production numbers. Even the members of the Philippine Embassy performed a song and dance number.
Choir mentored by AJ
The Philippine Embassy staff led by Ambassador Vicky Bataclan delighted the crowd with their Christmas medley.
St. Lucia Day
December 13 is observed as St. Lucia Day. Prior to my visit to Sweden, I never knew it was such a big feast in the Scandinavia.
According to my friends in Sweden, St. Lucia Day celebrates the martyrdom of a young Christian girl who brought food to the people with candles on her head to serve as her light. The celebration also coincided with the longest night in the country, hence, Lucia came to be a symbol of light (candles on the girl's head) in the darkness.
At that time, the feast fell on a school day. After our class, a majority of us Rule of Law students went to to Skansen to witness this celebration. Ladies garbed in white with red sash led by a muse crowned with candles rode horse carriages around the grounds of Skansen. After which, the ladies proceeded to the stage for a program which lasted less than an hour. Strains of the St. Lucia’s hymn filled the freezing air.
The chosen St. Lucia with her maidens during a celebration in Skansen.
Of course, one would know that St. Lucia Day is around the corner because shelves of stores such as Pressbyrän would be filled with the lussekatter or St. Lucia buns. It’s a S-shaped saffron bun topped with a couple of raisins opposite each other.
During that time I got a couple of invitations to a St. Lucia get-together. In one of these parties, I even got to assist in making the buns.
Of course, savoring the buns won’t be complete without the glögg, the perfect drink during a cold winter. It is made of cinnamon, orange, ginger, cardamom and cloves. One can have a sip of it, with or without alcohol. I prefer a cup of warm, non-alcoholic glögg with lots of almonds.
In Lappis, we spruced our tree with festive decors. A Swede in our corridor baked gingerbread cookies every Sunday of Advent. And she even made a gingerbread house which was lovely.
Gingerbread house made by Karolina Edholm in our corridor in Forskarbacken.
A must-visit in Stockholm in December is the Julmarknad in Gamla Stan. One square is dotted with booths displaying goodies for sale such as huge lollipops and candy canes, kids’ toys, bric-a-brac, wooden utensils, woolen apparel and a whole lot more of items ideal as presents.
Christmas celebration with Swedish families
It's a fun learning experience to actually witness and be part of the traditions of the countries I've been to. Take for example Sweden. I'll share with you my Christmas with my friend Michaela Andersson and her family on the maternal side. Their Christmas feast started as early as December 24. Michaela's mom offered me a bowl of hot porridge drizzled with cinnamon (risgrynsgröt). Perfect dish to start my chilly morning. She told me that as a tradition, they placed a bowl of porridge near the window for the jultomten.
By three in the afternoon, the whole family, young and old, gathered in front of the television to watch a series of cartoon shows. And this happened in almost all Swedish households. It's the same show that Michaela watched since she was a kid but she never got tired of it.
The huge dinner started at around five or six in the evening.
The julbord had a mix of herring with mustard, gravlax (cured salmon), korv (sausages), kötbullar (meatballs), red cabbage salad (rödkål), bread with cheese and paté, Janssons frestelse or temptation (baked potato casserole with cream and anchovies) and ham. And Michaela tried her luck with lechon by oven-roasting a part of a pork. We downed all the food with wine, shots of schnappes and bottles of Julmust (soda sold only during the Christmas season).
After the dinner, there was singing and fun conversations. The night ended with the giving of presents.
On Christmas Day, I had a lunch with another Swedish family, this time the Eklunds. Having been to Michaela's dinner the night before, I have already memorized the dishes to be served for this Christmas lunch since it had almost the same menu. But I didn't mind. I came to like Swedish cuisine.
December 26 is a holiday, it being St. Stephen's Day. But it is also the most awaited day for shoppers since all the stores in Stockholm participated in the holiday sale where items are sold at very, very low prices. People lined up at the stores' doors early in the morning.
Noche Buena with the Filipinos
The Mayo family hosted the noche buena for some Filipinos and Swedes in Stockholm. The dinner cured our nostalgia for home. We had the usual Filipino dishes usually prepared on this day. And of course, videoke session and gift-giving formed part of the party that night.
Torino, Italy: New Year’s Day 2007
I welcomed the year 2007 with my cousin in Italy. We had pandoro, chocolate pastries, lentils (for a rich year) and a bottle of spumanti, toasting (saying chin-chin) to a prosperous year ahead. And my cousin's husband dared me to drink his hometown's liqueur, Sardinia's mirto. I took on the challenge and I managed a sip since it was a very strong drink.
Babbo Natale's house in a town near Torino
Christmas and New Year's Day celebrations abroad are muted compared to festive mood in the Philippines. While there may be some differences, most countries all over the world share similar Yuletide traditions such as the gift-giving and the grand feasts.
I hope to experience more Yuletide feasts in the other parts of the globe.
And I end this entry with greetings across Europe and of course our very own Maligayang Pasko.
God jul och ett gott nytt år.
Frohe Weihnachten und ein glückliches neues Jahr.
Joyeux Noël et une heureuse nouvelle année.
Buon Natale e un felice anno nuovo.
Maligayang Pasko at manigong bagong taon.