PARIS – It is a well-known secret that Filipinos love Christmas. We love it so much that we start welcoming it as early as September in the Philippines. But what about our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) who have to celebrate this joyous season away from home?
We spent time with the Filipino community here to see how they celebrate Christmas in Paris – Pinoy style. Indeed, you can take the Filipino away from the Philippines, but you can't take the Philippines away from the Filipino – even in a city like Paris.
In typical Pinoy fashion, Christmas celebrations had lots of singing, dancing and, of course, food.
At the Notre Dame de Grace de Passy in the 16th arrondissement, the Philippine Catholic Mission kicked off their Community Day celebrations with a Sunday mass followed by a whole day of dancing, singing and a play of the Nativity scene.
But it was May Blanco who stole the show with her rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin.'" People jumped to their feet and joined her on stage to dance. The 8-year-old Blanco also sang at the concert of Filipino band Aegis when they held a concert in Paris last November.
"Kung ano ang tradisyon natin sa Pilipinas tulad ng Simbang Gabi ay pinagdiriwang din naming dito sa Paris," said Ronnie dela Cruz, Pastoral Council Coordinator of the Philippine Catholic Mission in Paris, a Catholic community for Filipino migrants.
(In Paris, we also celebrate the traditions that we have in the Philippines like the dawn masses.)
According to dela Cruz, Filipinos traditionally gather for evening mass at the St. Bernadette Chapel on December 24 as a "salubong" or to welcome Christmas.
St. Bernadette is considered the parish of the Philippine chaplaincy and conducts some masses in Filipino to serve the community in Paris.
At the Christmas Party of Kababaihan ni Rizal, or "The Ladies of Rizal" as they like to fondly call themselves, it was a night of karaoke and a lucky draw at raffle prizes.
The group, which is the female counterpart of the Knights of Columbus, decided to donate the funds they raised from raffle ticket sales to the communities that were affected by Typhoon Ruby.
"Pag nasa Pilipinas ka, kasama nila pamilya nila pero kami na nasa labas, we're trying to make do with Christmas parties like this one," said Maria Teresa Lazaro, Philippine Ambassador to Paris at the Kababaihan ni Rizal Christmas party. (When you're in the Philippines, you're with your family. But for those of us far away, we make do with Christmas parties like this one.)
"Pinaka importante dito yun camaraderie. They gather around and talk about the things that siguro kung nasa Pilipinas sila, magagawa nila." added Lazaro. (The most important thing here is the camaraderie. They gather around to talk about the things that they could be doing if they were in the Philippines.)
These Christmas celebrations, which are distinctly still very Filipino, offer a touch of home and make all the difference to the OFWs who have to celebrate the holiday season away from those dearest to them. Celebrating with fellow Filipinos who have become like extended family members gives meaning to the season.
A majority of the more than 50,000 Filipinos who live in France are undocumented migrants who cannot leave the country and spend many years without seeing their family in the Philippine.
"Dinadaos naming ang Pasko namin dito sa Paris na kahit malungkot kasi malayo sa pamilya," said Alex Manapat, an OFW who, along with a group of other Filipinos, was making his way back from the celebrations at the Philippine Catholic Mission. (Christmas here in Paris is sad for us because we cannot be with our families, but we get by.)