Christmas joy, far from home for Filipino expats in UAE

People walk past Christmas trees made of recyclable materials displayed at a city hall complex in Mandaluyong Metro Manila December 23, 2012. (Reuters)

In the Philippines, the months ending in “ber” signal the start of the Christmas season, and being far from home is not a hindrance to celebration for Filipinos based in the United Arab Emirates.

As early as September, Filipinos worldwide can be found flocking to malls for Christmas items such as trees, balls, garlands and Santa hats.

“The same love we have for Christmas in the Philippines is carried by Filipinos all over the world, and the UAE is no different,” Grace Princesa, Philippine ambassador to the UAE, told Al Arabiya News.

Special traditions

Besides organizing and attending Christmas parties, Filipinos remember special traditions observed during the Christmas season, such as the “Simbang Gabi” (Night Mass), which is celebrated for nine days until Christmas eve.

Jeremaiah Opiniano, a migration researcher at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, said: “Filipinos abroad never forget being Filipino in critical seasons like Christmas. Filipino bring their culture with them overseas.

They realize the many challenges of bringing the things they’re accustomed to overseas, even in countries with religious and cultural restrictions.”

Christmas away from home

Opiniano, who specializes in research on overseas Filipino workers, said those abroad maintain their “being a Filipino in a foreign land” through meals, long-distance phone calls, internet chats and family gatherings.

Filipinos in the UAE will most likely spend Christmas eve with family and friends celebrating the last night mass called “Misa de Gallo” (rooster’s mass), then head home to have the traditional “Noche Buena” (good night) dinner.

Noche Buena is the best time for Filipinos to showcase their different national dishes.

Present at every table during Christmas are “Kare Kare” - beef cooked with peanut butter and mixed with vegetables - deep-fried chicken, turkey ham with pineapple sauce, and grilled fish stuffed with sliced tomato and garlic.

There are also Christmas delicacies such as “Bibingka” - rice cake stuffed with sliced eggs - and “Puto,” a steamed rice cupcake topped with melted cheese.

Annaliza Diaz, a Filipino expat based in Dubai, said her last Christmas back home was in 2004. To make up for the lost time, she has brought her brothers over to celebrate.

“I plan to spend Christmas day with family and my brothers who are visiting Dubai for the first time, over dinner and cinema perhaps,” she said.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:42 - GMT 06:42