Let's face it: The reality is that many of us may not be spending the holidays with our loved ones. Many families may be celebrating Christmas apart — maybe some family members will be in Metro Manila while the others will be in the province. Or maybe some will be in the provincial cities while other family members will be in the barrios. Still others may be overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) toiling away in foreign lands, oceans apart from their loved ones.
Personally, I can relate very much to the previously mentioned scenario. My parents were OFWs. They worked in Brunei for quite a number of years. By God's grace, unlike other OFWs, Papa and Mama were able to bring me and my siblings over to Brunei with them. I practically grew up there, having arrived in Brunei when I was only a year and a half.
Back then, Christmas-time would usually find us either going home to the Philippines or staying in Brunei, depending on our family budget. We were happy to be together, even when we couldn't spend the holidays in the Philippines. What mattered then, and still matters now, is that we were with one another.
After some time, my older sister and brother went back to the Philippines for their high school education. Those were difficult times for our family, as we were incomplete for the most part of each year. I remember crying at times, because I missed my Ate and Kuya. I'm sure my parents and younger brother missed them terribly back then too.
When it was time for me to go to college in the Philippines, it was my turn to feel lonely as an OFW kid, as my parents were still in Brunei. By that time, my older sister was already working in Brunei too.
Fast forward to many years later. It was my husband and I's turn to live like OFWs, as we became lay missionaries based in Timor Leste, or East Timor. There were times when we'd have to stay in Timor for Christmas. It was fun and meaningful celebrating Christmas with the locals but we would still miss the trademark Filipino Christmas traditions and celebrations, and, most of all, being with members of our extended family.
Whether you're part of an OFW family or spending Christmas apart from the people you love for other reasons, here are some tips to help you make this season more meaningful and special:
1. Surprise your loved ones by sending gifts. I remember when we were still based in Brunei, we would always look forward to trips to the post office during special occasions like Christmas. We'd delight in any packages sent over to us from the Philippines, which usually took quite some time to get to us via snail mail. Nowadays, with the help of technology, it is much easier and faster to bridge the gap between people.
Make the season brighter for your loved ones by arranging surprise deliveries for them — if you can afford to do so by availing of online services, go ahead. Here are suggestions from Renz Alcantara, the mompreneur behind CMDA Cleaning Services and mom to five-year-old Peaches, whose parents in the US: "I arrange surprise deliveries as our gifts to them such as gifts from Amazon, chocolates from Sees Candies, flowers or cakes. Or I ask my best friend to buy something for my parents and I just pay her."
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2. Gather with other families and kababayans. If, like our family used to be, you are OFWs who have your kids with you but are unable to celebrate Christmas in the Philippines, try to look for other families in the same situation and celebrate with them instead. We used to do this when we were still in Timor, and it was always good to be with fellow Filipinos — friends who became like our "family away from family."
Menchie Santos, the work-at-home mom behind Solar House System Philippines, and homeschool parent to two boys aged 9 and two and a half, used to live in China with her family, because of her husband's job. She shares: "During our stay in China, we would get together with our OFW friends for a Christmas celebration. On Christmas day, our family would attend Holy Mass in Hongkong or Macau. Then we would call our families back home in the Philippines to greet them. This made our Christmas meaningful and full of blessings."