Maligayang Pasko!

Posted: December 25, 2010 in Life in the Philippines
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After four months of Christmas carols, malls decked out in boughs of holly, and every kid in our neighborhood ringing our doorbell and “caroling” (the trick-or-treating of Christmas, where kids ask for presents or money), you’d think we’d be more than ready for the big day.  But you’d be wrong.

Perhaps it’s just our wintry, northern childhoods that conditioned us to associate Christmas with pine trees, mittens, and of course snow.  No matter that the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the weather was likely much more like Manila than Minneapolis or Boston. It wasn’t until this week at the Samaritana staff retreat that the Christmas spirit swept me up.

On that note, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Christmas moments here in the Philippines–some humorous, some poignant–leading right up to this week, when I was finally ready to let it snow . . . or something:

  • I’m walking through the grocery store, buying mangoes and powdered milk, when I hear Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”  We hear her almost daily (I recently had a whole night of dreams where “Bad Romance” was the soundtrack–not fair).  But this time something remarkable happened.  The song morphed, ever so casually, into a techno-version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”  Clever, I thought.  But then the song switched into K$sha’s “Tick Tock,” and then into “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and then–just when I was sure there was nowhere else to go–Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.”  Naturally.  No one around me seemed to think anything of the Sexy Pop/Christmas medley.
  • One evening we stopped off at the University of the Philippines for the annual lantern parade.  When I recall the days and weeks leading up to Christmas in college, all I can remember is the stress of impending finals and being incredibly anxious to go home for winter break.  The U.P. campus put my faded memories to shame.  Each department on campus created an elaborate, ingenious float, often from nothing more than plastic cups and empty soda bottles, all of them lit up by portable generators.  The result was magical: jellyfish, sharks, dragons, and mermaids, each one more impressive and intricate than the last.
  • Last week about fifteen of the Samaritana women came to our apartment and caroled.  As they crowded into our little living/dining room, we fed them spaghetti and Filipino sweets.  They came all the way from Samaritana (about a 30-40-minute jeepney ride each way) just to sing for us.  We’re hoping to return the favor on the 26th, when we’ll host for dinner all of the women who couldn’t get home to their families in the provinces and had to spend Christmas alone.
  • Last Friday Samaritana hosted its annual Christmas party. Some of the women we’ve met at the bars also came, including a few bar owners and pimps (over time the Samaritana staff have realized that these women are the gatekeepers to the women Samaritana helps, and often need help themselves.  They also see Samaritana as a place where they can send the women when they are “used up” or too old). It was a 2 p.m. party, there were no alcoholic beverages, and the ages of the women ranged from 20 to 40-something–but Filipinos know how to party.  There was singing, dancing, food, and the best game of musical chairs I’ve ever seen (it ended in a tie because the last two women standing wrestled each other for their seat).  Samaritana gave out raffle items, and every woman went home with a basket full of groceries and a ham.  Ham is the meat of choice on Christmas here, and many of the women, teary-eyed, said that it was their first ham ever.
  • This past Sunday night, Samaritana partnered with World Vision and some local churches to host a Christmas party for the prostituted women in one of our outreach areas. (In recent years, it’s been a sad irony that the World Vision parking lot has been a frequent hangout for prostitutes, so we’re very excited about this new partnership with World Vision.) It’s been a tough area for Samaritana to reach, and for 18 years, Samaritana has been praying that local churches and NGOs would partner with them.  One of Samaritana’s  leaders told her story, how fourteen years ago she was just like them, working in the bars and not believing that there was any hope for another life.  She was in and out of Samaritana for years, but thanks to Samaritana’s persistence, she eventually stayed and became a leader.  Many of the women cried and said that no one had ever made them feel valued or thrown them a party.  Two woman pimps came to the event, and one of them said through tears that she wondered if God could ever forgive her for what she’s doing.  Each of the women, including several 14 and 15-year old girls, left with a lovely basket of gift-wrapped groceries.  One of the women said to a Samaritana leader, “is Samaritana a church?  How can I attend?”  These outcast, hungry for fellowship, were blown away that anyone would think they deserved a party.
As for our own Christmas (which included–Filipino style–midnight mass, dinner with a Filipino friend’s family until 2 a.m., 5 hours of sleep, and two more Christmas dinners today!) comes to a close, we are thinking a lot about all of you back home.  We miss you most this time of year.  Thank you for supporting the work we’re doing here, for vicariously loving these amazing women through us, and for encouraging us every step of the way.

Maligayang Pasko, at Manigong Bagong Taon! (Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!)
  1. jen says:

    I cannot believe what a busy and festive Christmas you had over there! So glad you have a Filipino family to spend the holidays with.

  2. Billy G. says:

    I second the statement that Filipinos really know how to party.

    Blessings to you both.

    –1/2 Blood Party-boy

  3. Meghan Ward says:

    Laura – what fabulous stories. I feel really old reading about the sexy pop songs since Lady Gaga is the only one I’ve heard of! So funny about the Christmas trick-or-treating. Do you have to give everyone who comes to the door money/gifts? I love reading your stories, and I can’t wait to read your book! I’m fundraising money for you at Writerland. So far I’ve raised about $10, but that should go far in Manila, right? 🙂

    • freeisaverb says:

      Don’t worry, Meghan. It’s only thanks to the lovely ladies I coached at Mills College that I’m up on my pop music (and sometimes I wish I weren’t). As for Christmas trick-or-treating, we tried to give out food when we could, but after a while we stopped answering our doorbell since we weren’t prepared enough to feed every kid in the neighborhood. Thanks for being so amazing and helping raise funds through your blog! I’ve been trying to direct people to Writerland, which deserves all of the attention it gets and more!

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