I left the Philippines with a grateful heart to work as a nurse in the UK a few years ago. I felt so motivated to start a new chapter of my life and my career. It was an outstanding achievement, and I was over the moon - until it slowly drifted away when December arrived. The Christmas season is in the air. Homesickness hit me hard. I miss my family, and I wondered how I would get through the most beautiful time of the year on my own.
I felt lonely and gloomy, but I diverted my mind and attention to better outcomes for this holiday season. I chose happiness and embraced my first Christmas in the UK with an open mind. It was a struggle; I guess mind over matter works. It turned out fine, and celebrating Christmas in the UK wasn't too bad. That being said, I have noticed that Christmas here in the UK has some differences in the Philippines. I've embraced it over the years but miss some things in the Philippines.
We indulge in traditional Filipino foods during the Christmas season, like queso de bola, puto bumbong, and bibingka, and I miss having them! In the UK, however, minced pies are everywhere, especially in the break room, the perfect companion for hot English tea and cold weather. Staff and doctors also bring lots of chocolate tubs as a Christmas gift for everyone.
Children in the Philippines commence their "caroling" in December few weeks before Christmas. It's not practiced here in the UK, but some events where the choir sings, but you can book Christmas Carol events if you want to hear some. No need to say "Patawad" if you run out of coins to give away.
The "ber" months, as we call them, mark the beginning of Christmas decorations in the Philippines. As early as September, malls, and houses put up their Christmas tree in preparation for the holiday season. People in the UK, however, are not as keen as Filipinos. Wreaths and trees are usually lit up in the early weeks of December but must be taken down before January 5. On the contrary, Filipinos tend to keep their Christmas decor until three kings.
Speaking of Christmas trees, I love how British tradition includes using real Christmas trees. It looks so rustic, and the lovely smell of pine trees brings nostalgic holiday feelings. It completes the holiday atmosphere, in my opinion.
One thing I miss during Christmas is the Noche Buena, where my family spends dinner at midnight on the 25th, greeting everyone with "Merry Christmas." Lots of food and lots of love were given at this time. It's different here in the UK, though. People gather together for Christmas lunch on the actual Christmas day. Turkey is usually the staple food for Christmas, along with some roast potatoes and veggies. Christmas crackers are also a popular table decor, and once it's pulled open, they will make a cracking sound with little gifts like a Christmas hat and a joke to brighten your day.
Simbang gabi isn't practiced in the UK as well. Being a Catholic, I used to go to mass every day until Christmas day, as they said your prayers would be fulfilled if you completed attending the "simbang gabi". I miss this devotional act as prayers heal my soul and bring peace to my heart. But never mind, I can always attend mass on Christmas day to show my gratitude to God on this beautiful day.
British people are very fond of sending Christmas cards too for everyone at work. Some will include little presents with it too. I love the thoughtfulness it brings to everyone this holiday season. Being in England, the home of the Royals, the Queen typically gives a meaningful speech for Christmas. It would be the King this year, and indeed it can be an emotional time for some as we celebrate the first Christmas without Queen Elizabeth delivering her speech.
Whenever I miss my family during this season, I go to the streets of London and appreciate the beautiful sights of Christmas lights and decorations everywhere. Christmas markets are around in places like Winter Wonderland. Although sometimes I wish my family could also experience the lovely atmosphere in the streets of London during this season.
Probably the best part of my Christmas is I get to spend it with my Filipino friends, who have become my family here in the UK. We cook Filipino dishes and try to incorporate fun games for everyone to enjoy and be jolly despite being away from our families. Also, OFW communities usually organise large Christmas parties to celebrate the joyous season and fill everyone with the Christmas spirit.
The Christmas season is usually a time for wrapping presents, filling Christmas stockings, and having back-to-back Christmas parties. The workplace is also filled with Christmas spirit. I realised it wasn't too bad at all. Being here in the UK is a great blessing and working abroad has its ups and downs. The holiday season may bring loneliness but it's up to me to create my own Christmas miracle. A day to spread love, joy and positivity to others in this festive season.