Spread Christmas cheer, not the virus: How Filipinos around the world will celebrate the holiday

AJPress Illustration by Godwin Gasacao

IT’S been over 10 months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and the virus is still raging. The situation may not be as bleak as before, with the promise of two vaccines coming to provide some hope, but we’re still far from the “normal” life we were once used to.

As it stands, the world will be celebrating Christmas this year with a lot of restrictions.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly advises against traveling and going out during the holidays lest another wave of infections happen, and world leaders have echoed the sentiment. Large gatherings and Christmas parties are a no-go, as well — which has left a lot of people feeling disheartened.

“Celebrate with people in your household. If you have plans to travel, you have to think twice, three times before doing so. This is really not the time because it’s not just bad for you, but bad for the people you’re visiting because you don’t know what you’re bringing to them,” said Dr. Jasmine Eugenio, a Filipina American pediatrics specialist at Martin Luther King, Jr. Outpatient Center in Los Angeles.

For many, Christmas was seen as a reprieve from the monotony that the pandemic has afforded. No one wants to be alone during the holidays, not when we’ve been isolated for more than half a year already.

“Reach out to family members through Zoom or other means. Call your lolo and lola, but you don’t have to visit them. They say Christmas only comes once a year, but there will be other Christmases,” Eugenio added.

AJPress Illustration by Godwin Gasacao

Still, many are willing to make the necessary adjustments, especially Filipinos, who have always been big on family-oriented celebrations. Around the world they’re prepared to comply with the safety measures imposed by their governments, welcoming Christmas Day with as much warmth and conviviality as they can in their situations.

“Here, gatherings are restricted especially in public. But if you’re staying at home, you’re allowed to celebrate provided that there won’t be any guests. Same with work, we can only celebrate by ourselves since there is a huge penalty if you invite someone from outside,” said Zeny Martin, from Abu Dhabi.

Greg Villar, who resides in Los Angeles, California, is also holding off on inviting his extended family for the holidays.

“My daughter and I will be celebrating Christmas at my house. We usually have cake, ham, lechon kawali, and leche flan,” he said.

“Back when my wife was alive, we used to host a Christmas party and invite her siblings and relatives alongside mine, and though my daughter and I still do that after she passed away two years ago, we won’t be inviting anyone this year because of COVID-19,” he added.

Meanwhile, Beth Cruz is finding ways to connect and celebrate with her loved ones in Dubai.

“Every year, we celebrate Christmas with our family, friends and relatives at home. However, due to the situation and restrictions, we will celebrate Christmas Eve with our family at home and organize small gatherings separately with friends and relatives at the park or restaurants,” she said.

According to her, the pandemic won’t deter her from celebrating Christmas, but stressed that she’s going to exercise caution while doing it.

“This pandemic will not keep us from celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus, we just have to practice precautionary measures for the safety of all our loved ones,” said Beth.

Likewise, Minda Lesaca from Toronto, Canada refuses to let the pandemic dampen her Christmas spirit.

“Christmas will continue despite the pandemic, however, there are many restrictions due to health protocols. We can’t invite relatives or neighbors, and we also can’t go outside to celebrate with others. There’s a limit in the number of people celebrating,” she said.

Lesaca lamented the restrictions in doing normal holiday celebrations, but reasoned that they’re needed for the sake of everyone’s lives.

According to her, being considerate is important during these unprecedented times.

“It’s sad to think about, but we really can’t do anything but comply with the rules to avoid getting infected or infecting others. We need to obey to protect not only our family but also everyone else,” Minda said.

“We really need to keep others in mind. We can still celebrate Christmas without any grandiose plans, anyway,” she added. “Christmas won’t be gone. It’s still the most important occasion because it’s the birth of Jesus Christ.”

To date, COVID-19 has infected around 69 million people worldwide and has taken more than a million lives.

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