Filipino Christmas around the world… how we Filipinos in Greece celebrate Christmas? Or how I a Filipina celebrate Christmas away from the Philippines.

I really do not know where to start, its been 21 Christmasses we have not been “home”. Our first Christmas away from home was in 1984. Not in Greece but in Holland, our first ever encounter of freezing winter. We stayed with a Filipino friend who is married to a Dutch and being a radical himself did not believe the culture of Christmas.

But walking around Amsterdam on the eve of the 24th. He probably had felt sorry for us, I was only 15 and my sister going 14, our first Christmas away from home. He took us to a place and offered to buy a Christmas tree but we politely refused as it was expensive.

But he said my wife should have a small plastic tree in the storage and the let us decorate a 3” tree with lights. No noche Buena then but hey it was actually a White Christmas !!! But our heart ached so much we wanted to be with our family in Pasig. Me banging metal containers with my uncles and my other uncle blasting music. My family lived in a small narrow street at Sumilang where all the kids gather up and blow fire crackers.

We would go to Pasig church then back for my Lola’s fare… ham, queso de bola, suman etc.
That was eons ago but still I have vivid memories of those great years in Pasig.

A Filipino Christmas in Athens circa mid 80s

2nd Christmas in 1985 was here in Athens, how could we make a Filipino noche Buena since finding asian food was so difficult.That time we even had to trek to the north suburb where most diplomats live for a small botlle of soya. But it did not much matter, we finally have Filipino friends around and I remember well we made ARROZ CALDO.
We went for a walk and came back to our flat with some friends and nourished ourselves with arroz caldo. The talk at our place would be food we missed so much…I also remember vividly we had FRUIT SALAD… Mediterranean fruits of course (peaches, apples, grapes) but done in Filipino way,heavy with cream and condensed milk.

Importation of Asian and Filipino products started trickling in… and we also slowly have adapted (adjusted) to the Greek culture. This time too we would spend our Noche Buena with friends. Most Filipino here are domestic workers and they themselves have learned to bring in GREEK CHRISTMAS to our Filipino Fare.
Of course the talk at our place would be food we missed so much…

I remember then when we discovered filo wrappers, we would make lots of TURON . Banana was exotic those years, we would supplement with apples. The basic fare was pancit (basically it was sotanghon at first) lechon kawali, leche flan (hey eggs are cheap here), maja blanca. But every flat I go to had the same fare. Why because that’s all we could get.

It must have been in the early 90s when things changed. The Filipino here tribal as ever, would party at hotels, the Ilocano association, the Batangenos and we had VISMIN, Visaya Mindanao group. Since we are one of the pioneers here we would try to attend all those parties and then I have discovered biko, kutsenta, maja blanca….. Roast pork had become popular and roasted pig heads. The Greek butchers found a market among the Filipinos for pork with skin and fats… heads… then I started tasting kilawen, pinapaitan.

brunsli, English minced pies (Dutchy, organic too) cinammon stars and mainderli cookies.
Of course I outgrew all the parties, I have adapted other cultures beyond Filipino and Greek, I had once a Swedish Christmas with ,meatballs, cranberries, gingersnaps and aquavit, cheering and lifting my glass to Skal.

A Swiss one with goose, gravy, Swiss cookies , brussel sprouts, wine , toasting Brost

An English one with crackers, turkey, puddings, mince pies and those silly jokes and colourful hats.

Then came 1997 when I started travelling, found myself a Christmas in Aspen, USA, Genoa, Italy, some remote island in the Seychelles and in UK few many times.

This time I am back here in Athens and found wonder the magic of commercialism has nestled into the veins of the Greek culture. As you see years back I nearly choked with my own tears HOW QUITE AND SAD ATHENS COULD GET ON CHRISTMAS.

Most Greeks go home to their villages and being Orthodox, a different culture, Greek exchange presents on New Years eve. Family spend time playing cards for their own luck. Of course I have mastered two card games called BIRIBA AND THANASSIS

Biriba – a two pack rummy game in which the aim is to make “biribas”, which are sets of at least seven cards of the same rank or seven cards in sequence in suit. Thanassis is another Rummy variation.

This year, there are carousels, bright lights, trees and English carols songs. It all started around 10 years ago when ex mayor DIMITRIS AVRAMOPOULOS , young charming mayor who used to be a diplomat in Austria decided to bring in more Western culture to Greece. He must have missed the great Austrian Christmas.

Huge tree was erected and music concerts were held… the Filipinos here were so DELIGHTED. How much they have anticipated such COLOURFUL CHRISTMAS just like home. Year after year things got flamboyant and with a new mayor Dora Bakoyannis who has spent Christmas abroad too brought new dimensions to a more western Christmas.

And the past two years FILIPINO STORES seems to be sprouting in Athens. The first one that opened many years ago is even called SALAMAT. Yes mangoes from the Philippines and variety of noodles, canned kaong, nata de coco, malgkit, cassava (fresh), coconut milk. Now, one can have a very Filipino fruit salad and cassava cake is now common too.

Christmas 2005

Last week, my vegetarian friend arrived from UK. Since Swiss cheese was working and we came back
from the aiport late, I took Neil to a candle light service at St. Andrews where many of my Ilocano friends attend. The service was from 9pm till 10pm.

I made some pumpkin soup ahead, LUMPIA – spring rolls and courgette quiche. The plan was to have a small meal and head to my Filipino friends. But we didn’t even realized it was midnight. It was a nightmare to grab a taxi to Manila town (where most our compatriots live). We decided to open another wine and stay put till past 1 when we had to go and meet Swiss Cheese at his work.

We had gin and tonics with a small platter made of spring rolls (again but MINE WAS A LOT BETTER) cheese pies, salmon, sausage canapés, small fish cakes, sushi with savoy cabbage instead of nori.

Gone was the Filipino Noche Buena I anticipated with a bit of guilt I was somehow a bit relieved we didn’t make it. I would certainly eat and stuff myself silly and wonder if we did.. How would I eat
what my sister’s Greek mother in law would serve me!!! She is a Greek Mama you know!

But I have met old acquintances the last few days and while enjoying biko, puto, pancit I asked them…
“can you remember in the old days, when there was no Asian products at all?”
I had fantastic talks with them, and I made them look back when they first arrived and how much things have changed indeed food wise for us here in Athens.

Since most of Lasang Pinoy post is not just a creation of food and testing a recipe but how food embodies our culture, I have found an interesting read on Latino Way of Celebrating Christmas at Panama Gourmet’s site. Here she mentions about
Cocada Blanca which sounds like the Filipino bukayo.. Go read her stories and it will lead you to food bloggers from Latin America whose food sounds like ours!