UNBOXING FILIPINO CULTURE: Close family ties and most loved items in a balikbayan box

IF there lies a single thing that would ultimately define Filipino identity, one would have to fly around the world and back, and still would not know what it would be. That is how diverse and colorful the Filipino culture is. Packed with various traits, characteristics, upbringing, talents and skills; no wonder you cannot confine the Filipino people in a single category. More often than not, you will find traces of them wherever you go.

One of the factors which certainly sets Filipinos apart from the rest, are their close family ties. In a common household, it is not surprising to see extended families living under the same roof. The concept of family not only applies as to what the law perceives—the smallest unit of society. For Filipinos, it is one flesh, blood, and legacy established at birth. What is valued in a family often corresponds with the values that one possess.

These familial ties gave birth to the idea of the “pasalubong.” It is a concept in the Philippines that whenever someone leaves home or travels, he has to bring back some sort of token from his destination upon his return.

Thus, the word pasalubong can also be translated as ‘something meant for you when you welcome me back.’ It has a few sentimental connotations, as in rejoicing the safe homecoming of someone who was away for a time.

Despite the influx of overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs), this tradition remained in their hearts. Regardless of them being away from their family members, they would still find time to send gifts to their families. It led to the idea of a balikbayan box, a care package that OFWs send their loved ones delivered via air or sea.

Whenever there is a balikbayan box delivered straight to one’s home, each member of the family would eagerly open it and would in turn, anticipate what the sender wishes for them to have. Goods and gifts, with labels as to who would receive such, is what should be expected once a balikbayan box arrives.

According to the latest data from the Philippine Statistics Office (PSA), the number of OFWs who worked abroad at was estimated at 2.4 million. Overseas Contract Workers (OCWs) or those with existing work contract comprised 97.1 percent of the total OFWs.

With that said, it can be observed that each family or household has at least one relative or family member working overseas. As a way to express their love, miles apart, they would in turn send balikbayan boxes to their loved ones in the Philippines.

Things loved most in a balikbayan box

Chocolates top the list of favorite balikbayan box contents, with four in every five people nonchalantly picking the said item as their personal favorite.

“It’s chocolate. Lots and lots of it,” said Cyril Bunuan.

In a similar survey conducted by Inquirer, December of last year, chocolates along with candies topped the list in 67 percent.

Asked on why chocolates are considered a common preference, one replied, “Siguro dahil may mentality na dito sa Pilipinas na mas mahal ‘yung presyo ng chocolates (Maybe because there is a mentality that chocolates are more expensive here in the Philippines).”

Gadgets came second on the list due to the increase in demand as technology continuously progresses. Mobile phones, personal computers, tablets, cameras etc. were the common preferences of Filipinos.

Clothes immediately followed on the list with 63 percent of respondents picking it among their top favorite goodies. Branded apparel in various sizes, colors and designs were also among the favorite items found inside the balikbayan boxes. Once the said box lands in the Philippine soil and into the arms of the recipients, rest assured there will be a gathering of some sort where relatives haul whichever garments would fit them.

Shoes were also considered a common favorite. In the Philippines, whenever someone would leave home, even for a short while or even if it’s just a local destination, they would say the common expression, “Size nine ako ah, (My foot size is nine),” as a way of hinting that they want shoes for pasalubong.

Canned goods are the most practical items in a balikbayan box. Since it would take long for the goods to expire, families are able to utilize them for emergency purposes.

Distance indeed cannot hinder one’s expression of love and concern. Even with something as simple as a balikbayan box, one must still be thankful and appreciative. After all, what matters in the end is not the value of the goods in the box but the amount of love it signifies.

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