From flight attendants to overseas workers to travelers and married couples: 12 people explain why (and how) Christmas will be spent anywhere but here.
How many times have we complained about the ridiculous December traffic, the stressful mall crowds, and the addictive but cloying cloud of manic-panic that seems to descend on us when the holidays roll around? Too many.
Still, home is where the heart is, and though we bitch and whine about these shores and threaten to migrate to greener pastures, most of us can’t seem to fathom spending Christmas away from the glittery palara pull of the Philippines. After all where else will we gorge on bibingka, drag our asses out of bed at the crack of dawn for simbang gabi, and walk into every store to the warm crooning welcome of Jose Mari Chan’s “Christmas in Our Hearts”?
Twelve people share what Christmas away from home feels like, in hopes of making us all appreciate this chaotic city, the traditions we love and loathe in equal parts, and the incomparable magic and madness of family a little bit better.
“Christmas leaves were raffled off at work, and I wasn’t chosen.” —Xyla, 32, nurse
Where is “home”? QC, Philippines
Why won’t you be home for Christmas? The hospital I work at raffled off Christmas leaves. I wasn’t picked. This is the second time I won’t be celebrating Christmas with my family.
Where will you be spending Christmas this year and what are your plans? In Abu Dhabi, UAE, with my colleagues. We plan to have a slumber party-themed potluck noche buena. I planned some games as well for us to enjoy.
How do you feel about being away from home? I’m homesick. It’s also my mom’s birthday. She requested for me to go home this time but unfortunately, I can’t grant her wish, which makes me really sad.
What will you miss about spending Christmas at home? My family, our dogs, and my mom’s spaghetti and arroz caldo. The best way to celebrate Christmas is with your family.
“I’d rather celebrate with friends than spend Christmas at home alone.” —JB, 31, HR manager
Where is “home”? Technically, the Philippines. But after having the opportunity to work abroad last year, I’ve redefined “home” to be two things: where my family is, and being in the company of friends I love.
Why won’t you be home for Christmas? My family is in Australia at the moment and I no longer have enough leaves to join them! I decided to join friends in Singapore rather than celebrating Christmas alone in the Philippines.
What are your Christmas plans? My friends in Singapore have planned a simple noche buena at one friend’s house, then we’ll spend the rest of the evening drinking wine.
How do you feel about being away from home? Mixed feelings: sad that I won’t be with family but happy to be back in Singapore and spending time with friends.
What’s one constant thing about Christmas for you, wherever you are in the world? Thinking about special people in my life and preparing gifts for them. I like to put some thought into my gift giving—quality over quantity!
“I only go home every other year.” —Joms, 31, preschool teacher and freelance performer
Where is “home”? My main home is in Manila, with my family. My second home is Hong Kong, with my fur baby Luna, a rescue dog.
Why won’t you be home for Christmas? I only go home to the Philippines every other year, and I already did last year.
Where will you be spending Christmas this year? In the UK, with my partner’s family.
How do you feel about being away from home? I usually miss the family festivities and the feast everyone helps prepare. It’s so much more festive back home, and it makes me a bit sad to see photos of my family on Facebook celebrating without me. But I’m also glad that I get to see how other people around the world celebrate Christmas.
What’s one constant thing about Christmas for you, wherever you are in the world? There is always some sort of family. If I’m in another country, I will definitely celebrate it with my “family” from that country, may it be a group of friends, my colleagues, or my partner’s family. It reassures me that I’ll be okay, and that family is the people around you who make you feel safe and happy.
“I needed to get away when my first marriage ended.” —Rikka, 50, school administrator
Where is “home”? Pasig, Metro Manila.
Why won’t you be home for Christmas? I’ve been celebrating Christmas in the US for almost ten years. I have two sisters in the West Coast. I made the choice when my first marriage failed—it was good to be with family.
Who will you be spending Christmas with this year? I recently remarried, so my husband and daughter will be flying to the US with me.
What’s one constant thing about Christmas for you, wherever you are in the world? Lechon! I make sure we have it, even in the States.
“I’ll be up in the air, working.” —Trish, 30, cabin crew
Where is “home”? Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental
Why won’t you be home for Christmas? I’ll be working.
Who will you be spending it with? The passengers and our flight crew for that day. We’ve made plans to exchange gifts and bring food to share with the whole crew.
How do you feel about being away from home? Not too bad, because my family would always plan a special Christmas Day just for me, depending on when my day off is.
What’s one constant thing about Christmas for you, wherever you are in the world? Alcohol and my Christmas playlist.
“Home is wherever the Air Forces sends us.” —Marianne, 32, nurse and military wife
Where is “home”? As a military family, we’ve lived all over the world. But the Philippines will always be my home.
Where will you be spending Christmas? Okinawa, Japan.
What are your Christmas plans? Here in Okinawa, Christmas is just a normal day. Kids go to school and people go to work. I will be spending it with my husband and my son. Concrete plans have not yet been determined, but we’ll definitely open gifts on Christmas morning and eat somewhere nice.
How do you feel about being away from home? Extreme homesickness.
What will you miss about spending Christmas at home? I miss the holiday feast with family and friends. I miss going to a crowded church. I miss the food specially bibingka and puto bungbung. I miss the kids singing Christmas carols at home.
What’s one constant thing about Christmas for you, wherever you are in the world? For me, giving is the constant thing about Christmas. We plan to bake cookies for the airmen and sailors who live in dorms and barracks. We will also participate in gift giving activities at the local Okinawan children’s hospital.
“Going home will be expensive and will create visa issues.” —Jesse, 34, mall operations manager
Where is “home”? The Philippines.
Why won’t you be home for Christmas? I work in Chongqing, China and my contract will end in January 2018, so I cannot go home just for Christmas. It will be expensive and will create visa issues for me.
Who will you be spending Christmas with and what are your plans? My housemate who is also Pinoy. We will try to eat something “mahal at masarap” for dinner so it would feel like noche buena. Chinese people don’t really celebrate Christmas, so it’s more meaningful to spend it with people understand its value. I might also meet up with some expat friends as they too are celebrating away from home.
How do you feel about being away from home? I’ve gotten used to it. Being far away, you learn to be positive and find productive things to do to make you feel better about your situation. You also do your best to look for other people who have the same sentiments. I’ve had good friends here who have become sources of happiness and love, similar to family and friends back home. Happiness can be found all over the world!
What will you miss about spending Christmas at home? The big reunions and gift giving. I am also missing all the delicious Filipino food—I promise to never take it for granted again!
“It’s been 12 years since I spent Christmas with both my mom and sister.” —Deanna, 32, records specialist for the Las Vegas Police Department
Where is “home”? Pasig City, Metro Manila.
How do you feel about being away from home? It’s sad that I won’t be home for Christmas because it’s been 12 years since I was able to spend Christmas with both my mom and sister, Christmas in Las Vegas is never really the same. Here, it’s just another holiday to celebrate and I think so many people do not even know the real meaning of Christmas.
What’s one constant thing about Christmas for you, wherever you are in the world? Even if noche buena is not a tradition here in the US, I’ve made it our family tradition. My husband, who is not Filipino, now celebrates Christmas Eve with me and my daughter.
“My parents’ godchildren keep dropping in to ask for aguinaldo.” —Aileen, 44, trainer
Where is “home”? Caloocan City, Metro Manila.
Why won’t you be home for Christmas? We’ve had a tradition of going out of town for five years now, because my parents’ godchildren still kept dropping in (with their children, and sometimes grandchildren, because their kids had given birth as teens), asking for aguinaldo. This was happening even though my parents were already retired senior citizens living on their pension.
What will you miss about spending Christmas at home? I miss our old family traditions. But since our lola and dad died, it has been rather sad having the old traditions.
“It’s a chance to create new traditions with my new family.” —Chiara, 33, writer and editor
Where is “home”? Manila, originally.
Why won’t you be home for Christmas? Hanoi, Vietnam is our home for now. My boyfriend and I will both be working through the holidays. We also wanted to see what Christmas in Hanoi would feel like.
Who will you be celebrating Christmas with? My boyfriend and a few friends who also chose not to go home for the holidays. We’re throwing a party for all the stragglers at our place.
How do you feel about being away from home? It’s my first time spending Christmas away from my family so I’m a little sad about that, but I think this is also a chance to create new traditions with my Hanoi family.
What will you miss about spending Christmas at home? I’ll miss being constantly plied with delicious food and drinks, of course. I’ll miss the parties and the festive atmosphere.
What’s one constant thing about Christmas for you, wherever you are in the world? Spending time with people who matter to me and hosting at least one party.
“I enjoy celebrating Christmas wherever I am.” —Kriztel, 32, freelance media project manager
Where is “home”? I’m based in Berlin with my husband, but home has always been the Philippines.
Why won’t you be home for Christmas? We spend the holidays alternating between the Philippines and Germany, and it’s Germany’s turn this year!
What are your Christmas plans? We’re excited to spend our first Christmas in our Berlin home. We will be spending the 24th hosting my in-laws for Christmas lunch and then spending noche buena with other friends in the city in the evening. Christmas Day will be spent at the in-laws’ place just eating, drinking, and probably taking long walks after.
How do you feel about being away from home? I’m used to spending Christmas(es) away from the Philippines because we lived in Singapore before Germany, and it’s always been a case of choosing where to celebrate it for the year. Not a big problem for me as I enjoy celebrating Christmas wherever I am.
What’s one constant thing about Christmas for you, wherever you are in the world? It’s always about getting into the Christmas spirit, when everyone’s in the mood to be kinder and a bit more jolly.
“Home is wherever my fiancée and I are happy together.” —Ian, 38, reality TV producer
Where is “home”? Bournemouth, England.
What are your plans for Christmas? I’ll be spending the holidays with my fiancée in idyllic tropical paradise beaches in the east coast of Thailand and experiencing new things with her.
How do you feel about being away from home? Over the past few years, I haven’t been spending a lot of time in England. So being away from ‘home’ isn’t really something new to me. Nowadays home is wherever my fiancée and I are happy together.
What will you miss about celebrating Christmas at home? The company of family and friends and the traditional English Christmas dinners—with mulled wine, open fires, turkey stuffing, the smell of real pine trees, and the Christmas crackers. I won’t be missing the miserable cold weather, though.
What’s one constant thing about Christmas for you, wherever you are in the world? It’s funny, but it doesn’t matter where you are in the world: the same Mariah Carey Christmas album will be playing on full blast. And you always end up dancing and singing along.