There is nothing like the Christmas in the Philippines. We start celebrating it as soon as the “Ber” months kick in.
It’s a little tacky, I know, but it becomes more endearing than irritating when you come to think of it.
I used to live in the San Juan area where every year, around October (sometimes even earlier), the left and right side of Gilmore Avenue near Sampaguita Pictures would be filled with vendors selling Christmas Lanterns or “Parols” as we would call it. We never bought any from them but it was always a magical drive at night on our way home from dinner out or a party somewhere. As I grew older — now behind the driver’s seat and not asleep at the back — I notice that the designs got fancier, and the lights a little brighter. But still, I’d take the time to slow down and watch the blinking lanterns dance.
We Filipinos like our Christmases festive, you see? My family in particular loved putting on these big Christmas Eve shows right after our anticipated mass.
It would take forever for us grandkids to do the obligatory beso to all our Titos and Titas before we could settle down for the big show.
My Lolo and Lola would have the best seats of the house, in front of all the other guests — cousins, distant relatives — who’d gleefully cheer for us as we grandkids danced, sang, recited and showcased whatever little talent we believed we had. It was the perfect audience, anyway. We always got a standing ovation as we claimed our 10peso bills from our Lolo right after curtain call. Of course, the older you got the more money you got.
But I think the most anticipated event during Christmas (I’m pretty sure every Pinoy will agree) is Noche Buena. Now, before you react violently, I understand that each Pinoy family has his own variety for this “feast.” Some celebrate on Christmas Day, others at the stroke of midnight etc. But for my family, we have our epic feast on on the eve of Christmas.
It usually involves the amazing recipes of my Lolo’s choice cook who has become responsible for my grown palate.
We’re talking Filipino classics — Lengua, Lechon Baboy, Karne Asada, Paella, Pork Roast, Steamed Lapu Lapu with the mayonnaise salad of finely chopped carrots and celery. There’s Crab in coconut sauce or chilli sauce, Prawns, Sisig, and Bopis.
And who can forget the Ham? Good god, the Christmas ham.
My dad loved the saltier Chinese holiday ham, while I loved the cheaper and sweeter magnolia ham that had the glaze.
Of course at the far end of this spread is the glistening mound of white rice to serve as the vehicle for all this Christmas goodness.
If you are still awake and conscious after that, you can brave the dessert table for your choice of ensaymada, bibingka, spongecake, or Queso De Bola amongst others.
Not too long ago, we got treated to an overnight stay by F1 Hotel in Global City. It was a much needed forced vacation for Agee since she was getting physically stressed by law school, and it was great opportunity for me to get my mind off work and the necessary stress that came with the holidays. Apart from the very streamlined and efficient staff, the design of the hotel is the right amount of modern and functional. The incomparable Filipino Hospitality is evident and thick within the small walls of the hotel. I was lucky enough to get checked-in into a very spacious suite with a bed that just swallowed up all my stress and a view of Bonifacio High Street that I can cherish before it gets too cluttered with high-rises.
F1, I find from Spanky Enriquez, takes its name from the inspiration of placing the Filipino first.
It’s the first fully Filipino-owned hotel in the area and aims to introduce our culture and heritage through a world-class experience. This couldn’t be more evident in their Noche Buena spread. A modern gastronomical experience but one that is full of Filipino heart and soul.
While the spread can be overwhelming like any of the 5 star buffets, once you get around it, it teleports you back to you to your Noche Buena dinners as a kid.
It was absolutely daunting going through each station, but the selection and the recipes felt like a Michelin Star version of our family meals.
But I think what they should really be proud of is this Queso De Bola Cheesecake which is as tart, decadent and addicting as the way your Lola makes it.
I can swear by it. The love and the craft that went into designing this delightful little cake is a concentration of what the Hotel stands for and what the owners want to be remembered by.
It’s the Filipino Christmas in a box. It’s the Filipino experience in a bite.
I’m sure each Family has their own unique memory of the Christmas Feast, but I’m also confident that there are more commonalities than discrepancies.
That’s because the Christmas Feast is more cultural than culinary.
These dishes bring us a sense-memory that fills more than our tastebuds, it fills our souls. The taste comes from our history, our heritage, and our home — something truly unique to the Filipino Christmas.
Over the past few years, I’ve quickly transformed into a Christmas Grinch, getting stressed with all the expenses, traffic and family obligations. The weekend in F1 (and that damn cheesecake) gave me enough cheer to remember why I truly loved Filipino Christmases in the first place.
All Photos Taken From F1 Hotel BGC Taguig.