PHITSANULOK, Thailand – As early as September, Fe Mamba sets up her Christmas tree. She adorns it with multi-colored balls, glittering lights, bright red poinsettias, and tops it with a little star to complete the ensemble. Ingrid Cajes hangs a “parol” outside their apartment which her husband Perry made himself to feel the “Paskong Pinoy” vibe. Leah Doysabas starts to play OPM Christmas songs as she prepares herself for work.
“This is my way to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in my humble abode,” says Leah, a science teacher from Bukidnon who has celebrated Christmas away from home for 15 years. “At least with familiar Christmas carols, I get to feel ‘Paskong Pinoy” even if I am million of miles away from home,” she adds.
Thailand is a Buddhist country and Christmas, although recognized, is not celebrated nor acknowledged as an official holiday. December 25 is a typical working day unless it falls on a weekend. But this doesn’t stop the many Filipinos in the kingdom to observe authentic Filipino Christmas the way it is celebrated back in the Philippines.
So, how do Filipinos in Phitsanulok celebrate Christmas?
Setting Up Christmas Decorations
Like Fe Mamba, Belle Hinuguin puts up her little Christmas tree because of the constant prodding of her daughter, Aka. She highlights her display with a handmade nativity scene created out of recycled materials. In Art and Cel Lunaria’s rented house, their orange-themed Christmas tree is also accentuated with a complete set of nativity figures bought from the Philippines which they creatively assemble in a makeshift stable.
“Having a Christmas tree inside the house makes me feel like I’m at home,” shares Shareen Barlomento, who has spent Christmas in Thailand for seven years now. “It’s nice to come home and listen to Christmas carols on Youtube while watching those Christmas lights chasing each other.”
For the Lunarias, the Cajeses and the Hinuguins, setting up Christmas decorations is more than just adornments for the holidays. It is bringing the Christmas spirit into their homes so that their children Zoey, Pixie, and Aka will have a peek on how Christmas is celebrated in their home country.
Christmas Outreach Activity
For more than a decade now, the Saint Nicholas Church Foreign Community (SNCFC), a community of mostly Filipino members, regularly conducts an outreach activity to Catholic communities around the province of Phitsanulok to officially kick start the season of giving. They give clothing items, schools supplies, foods and toys to kids and adults alike.
The annual outreach activity started in 2008 and has since became a regular gift-giving mission of the members. The biggest project the community has done was in 2013. The community organized a fund-raising activity for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan that hit many parts of Leyte in the Philippines. SNCFC raised a total amount of 231,629 baht which they sent for aid through ABS-CBN Sagip Kapamilya and GMA Kapuso Foundation.
Misa de Gallo
The “Misa de Gallo” started in 2017 when Rev. Fr. Ronnie Torres, OMI arrived at Saint Nicholas Church as a missionary priest. Now on its third year, the tradition of the early morning mass is actively participated by the Filipino community members of the church.
Like how it’s traditionally observed in the Philippines, early morning breakfast are served after the mass. The meals usually consist of Filipino “kakanin” such as “suman”, “puto” and traditional “pinoy breakfast” such as “arozcaldo” and “sopas”.
“Nakakamiss ang gumising ng napaka-aga para magsimba”, says Jane Sansee. “Now that Fr. Ronnie is here to celebrate the mass with us, hindi na lang ako sa Youtube or sa Facebook manonood, ramdam ko pati ang lamig ng hangin sa madaling-araw kaya ramdam ko kahit papaano ang Paskong Pinoy”
Annual Christmas Ball
The annual gathering of the Filipino community in Phitsanulok is one of the most anticipated event of the year. Filipinos gather in their best suits and evening gowns to party. Aside from food, the parties also boast of songs, dances, games, and raffle prizes just as how its done in “Pinas”.
This year’s Pilok Pinoyz Christmas Ball was held on Saturday, December 21 at Mayflower Grand Hotel. Pilok Pinoyz came in their best 80’s look and fashion. Before the night concluded, the Pilok Pinoyz officers distributed their gifts to the Pilok Pinoyz kids and handed the special awards to the deserving winners.
“What a merry and memorable night, indeed,” wrote Nic de los Reyes, the winner of the Star of the Night” in an FB post. “Thank you so much P’lok Pinoyz for this award. I came to celebrate with fellow Filipinos a Christmas Party for the first time in 5 years of stay here in Phitsanulok, and this award is a plus,” he continued.
The list of the winners of the night include: April Joy Amparo – Female Star of the Night; MJ Garin and Aliyah Imbon – Kids Star of the Night; Dondon and Faith Imbon – Couple of the Night; Lorenzo Caballes, Jr. – Male Best Dressed of the Night and Blessile Cainoy – Female Best Dressed of the Night.
The Filipinos in Phitsanulok is only a dot of the millions of OFW’s who will be spending Christmas away from home. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), there were at least 2.3 million registered overseas workers in 2018. The agency has yet to release its survey results for 2019.