Three days from now, we will once again prepare for our noche buena, which, for Filipinos, is one of the highlights of the Christmas season. In our family, the midnight feast consists of the traditional jamon and quezo de bola; Filipino-style spaghetti and buttered toast; apples, grapes, and other round fruits; macaroni or fruit salad; and, quite recently, a bottle of red or white wine.
Okay, this feast is probably typical of an average middle-class Filipino family’s, but it would have its counterpart among the more economically challenged among us. The idea is for us to give thanks for the blessings that we have received during the year, and to celebrate the company of our loved ones, especially family members, close relatives, and friends.
Over the past few years, though, I have begun to wonder whether it is still practical to serve so much food, given that the “senior citizens” of our home and even the “young” ones (i.e., my sister and I) have reduced the volume of the food we consume, due to both medical concerns and increased health consciousness. While my parents are taking some maintenance medicine, they are still basically healthy as soon-to-be octogenarians. I wonder whether my sister and I will remain as healthy as they are when we reach their age given that we are already experiencing the body aches and pains of middle age, in spite of our attempts at healthy living (i.e., eating good food, and exercising when time allows).
I think that we can probably dispense with the midnight meal, and celebrate the feast at lunchtime the following day. By doing this, we would not have to sleep on a full stomach, as well as not have to worry about doing the dishes around 2 p.m. of Christmas Day. But like many other long-standing traditions, noche buena is not about what is practical, economically or health-wise. It is about the meaning attached to the said ritual, which has historical, cultural, and spiritual dimensions.
Right before we partake of our midnight meal, we gather at the living room, light candles before the Belen (nativity scene), and pray the rosary together as a family. (Note: We do this, too, on New Year’s Eve.) This is a symbol of how our family has remained intact over the years (even if we just see each other on weekends), and how we, too, are linked to Christ, through the Church, over the centuries. The food we serve has meaning, too — spaghetti or pancit for longevity, round fruits for prosperity, and jamon for culinary delight (and good cholesterol, too)! Our conversations about how good the food tastes (or how it could have been cooked better), about the latest news on a relative or an acquaintance, about the latest telenovela or reality show, about University life, about our stock investments, about our parents’ lives when they were children during the Second World War, about how we used to go caroling with our friends in the neighborhood, and about Christmases past — these form a kaleidoscope of our collective memories, so much brighter than all of the Christmas lights in Ayala Avenue combined.
Raymund B. Habaradas is an Associate Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University (DLSU), where he teaches Management of Organizations, Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility, and Management Action Research. He is also the Director of the DLSU Center for Business Research and Development.