Why Traditions Matter
We did not have much growing up. We never had lavish food nor plenty of money. We were a big family with two hard working parents. So I do not have memories of extravagant Christmases with plenty of toys or gifts. But what I do have are precious memories of Christmas traditions. Filipino culture is steeped with traditions especially during Christmas. Sadly, some of those practices have been eroding but some families have stubbornly maintained these traditions.
When I was growing up in Tondo, just like the many families in the entire nation, it was a custom for all of us to wait for midnight and welcome Christmas with food on the table. This is what we know as Noche Buena, the Spanish word for “good night.” It involves a very late dinner on the eve before Christmas. Some families had slight variations in that they’ll eat at around 10 p.m. so they can catch the midnight mass. But in the Villar residence it has to be midnight.
When you think about it the practice is actually kind of funny. If my siblings and I ate anything late at night on any other day of the year my mother would be mad at us. But not this night. In fact, my mother insisted on waiting until the clock strikes 12 — on the dot — before any of us can eat. We did not have much then but my mother and father would save money for a very modest Noche Buena feast. I remember we always had scraps of ham — cheap but very, very tasty. We sell fish and shrimp at the market so we would have those. But it was the keso de bola that was my favorite. Another unique feature of this Christmas tradition is the symbolism we give to the food we serve. In the case of the round ball of yellow cheese covered in bright red wax, the shape supposedly symbolized wealth and prosperity — that is why we also have those during New Year’s Eve.
As a kid, I loved peeling that red wax which was put there to help in its preservation. But of course the best part is eating it. I would munch on it or put in inside a hot pandesal. You know that the best parts of Noche Buena are the leftovers which we consumed with gusto the following Christmas morning. Breakfast with pandesal ham and cheese is a shared meal etched in my memory.
When I grew up and looked back at those childhood memories, I realized that aside from being good parents providing food at the table my mother and father was actually creating memories for us to look back to. And so when Cynthia and I began building our own family, I made sure we would have our own family tradition. For instance, I organized Sunday lunches with our family. Even when Mark, Paolo and Camille became busy with their respective careers we made it a point to be together for Sunday lunch where we would share a meal as well as our stories.
The Sunday lunches of course became more difficult when all my three children began building their own families but we still managed to organize an occasional lunch or dinner so we can catch up but more importantly so I can dote on my beautiful apos.
Another Villar family tradition is our annual holiday trip to the United States. During Christmas season we would all go to the US and spend Christmas there. We all just want to be together during Christmas which is something that might be difficult to pull off if we were in the Philippines. On Christmas Eve, we would all snuggle together for a movie marathon while we wait for midnight. Then at the strike of midnight we would all share a meal. I suspect we were the only family in our area that did that on Christmas Eve. It was a Christmas tradition that we looked forward to each year until the pandemic came.
Even in business I try to create traditions with our employees. For instance, it has been a tradition for me to bring to the US a select group of One Villar employees as part of our incentives for all their hard work.
I am glad that this year, after suffering through the pandemic, we get to do it again. Why? Because traditions matter. It’s an excuse for everyone in your family to be together. This is important because when you are together you create memories.
Memories become part of what you are. You are that guy in your office who always had a New Year reunion with your big family, or perhaps you are the one in your barkada who always has to be home every Sunday for your family dinner, or that costume party your family organizes on New Year’s Eve.
It does not matter what tradition you have. It can be as simple as sitting down with everyone and exchanging stories and gifts. What matters are the memories you are creating so that when you grow old you have a bank of mental and emotional souvenirs to go back to.
Merry Christmas everyone! Stay together, create memories together!