Celebrating Christmas in America as new immigrants: Filipinos share their stories of beating the holiday blues

AJPress illustration by Godwin Gasacao

WE associate the holidays with many things. Presents under the Christmas tree. Yuletide songs playing everywhere we go. But most importantly, the holidays are about family, and as Filipinos, family time during the holidays is a must. 

However, geographic distance and financial roadblocks make that impossible for some Filipino-Americans who may not get to travel back to the motherland to spend the holiday with their families. More so, spending the holidays in a brand new, unfamiliar country can feel lonely and foreign. 

But there are ways to make the most of the holidays despite the change in residency. Here are how some Filipino immigrants cope with spending Christmas in their new homes.

Filipino-American Los Angeles couple Nina and Michael recently moved to the United States and are making a conscious effort to join nearby family members and bring in the flavors of home to their first American Christmas.

“As new immigrants, we’ve sought out family close by—for us, they’re like home in a new land. More so during the holidays,” the couple told the Asian Journal. “We are cooking homegrown favorites together—latik, Pinoy tamalos, longganisa, puto and the kids will be making [a] gingerbread house from scratch, while we enjoy American favorites like ham and steak. Feeling very grateful to have family with us, and reveling in the love of family this Christmas season, wherever we may be.”

Baguio-native Rodolfo Salazar moved to LA in 2017 and will be spending his second Christmas outside of the Philippines and away from most of his family. Having no relatives who live in California, he said that his first Christmas was “lonely” compared to his celebrations back home, which included nearly a hundred friends and family.

“My first Christmas was very lonely and very depressing,” Salazar, who lives in Northridge, said with a sigh. “I didn’t really do anything but I called my brothers over FaceTime and spent a little time with them. But it really just made me sadder that I wasn’t with them. When you spend a lot of time with family, and then suddenly [find yourself] alone, it’s really shocking.”

Although he said he’d “like to forget” about his first Christmas, this year, he made a conscious effort to make Christmas 2018 even better.

“I feel better about it this year because I made friends with some of my neighbors and they invited me to spend [Christmas] with them!” he said. “It’s funny because when I told them about how awful and lonely my last Christmas was, they said, ‘Why didn’t you tell us? You could have come over!’ So, I decided that to help them out with Christmas dinner and spend time with their family.”

Although his neighbors may not be his blood relatives, he said that they feel like family and that even though you may not spend Christmas with your own relatives, you can “find family” anywhere.

“It’s starting to feel like more of a home now,” Salazar said of living in California. “The more people I meet and the closer I get to some of the friends I made, the less lonely I feel. Even though I miss my family back home, I’m not so worried [about feeling lonely] anymore.”

Administrative assistant Aida Apelacio moved from the Philippines to California in 1993 and has spent nearly every Christmas in the U.S. without her immediate family. Although she now has extended family in the United States, she, like Salazar, described that first Christmas without her family in 1993 as “really, really lonely” and “extremely sad.”

“It was unexplainable, especially for me because I am really close to my brothers and sisters and my mom. When I had that first Christmas without them, it was really so hard and I really missed them a lot,” Apelacio told the Asian Journal in a phone interview. 

In addition to missing her family and loved ones back home, Apelacio noted that she also misses the massive months-long event that is Christmas in the Philippines which, as most Filipinos know, begins in September.

“There’s nothing else like it. It really is a special time of the year,” Apelacio said. “The small children singing Christmas carols around the neighborhoods, the different foods that they have over there and the Christmas parties we used to have over there. It was really, really fun and [a] very unique experience, and it is really beyond words.”

Apelacio, who is now married and living in Artesia, California, now takes advantage of the telecommunication advancements that have been introduced in the last 25 years to communicate with her family back home, especially during the holidays.

“It’s a lot easier now since we have all these social media like Viber, Messenger or Skype so our family feels less far away and we can feel less lonely. It would have been nice to have that before, but I’m glad we have it now,” Apelacio adds with a laugh. 

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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