By Rossana Gudani, World Vision Canada
It is already December. There is a feeling of anxiety, panic and excitement, all at the same time as my kids count down the days until Christmas. The cold air is a reminder that the holiday season is nearing. The neighbourhood is starting to fill with beautiful lights and outdoor decorations.
At my home near Toronto, we have just put up the Christmas tree. And as I stare at the blinking lights, I am brought back to my childhood in the Philippines, during my favourite time of the year!
Me (second from left) with my sister and brothers, on our way to Mass on Christmas Eve. I was bubbling over with excitement! Photo: The de Leon family
Here in Canada, people have a lot of memories from different parts of the world. Growing up in the Philippines, I remember being excited once my father put up the Christmas tree. But I was most fascinated by the 'Parol' that my parents always made sure was up and lit by our front door.
This Parol hangs in my parents' home today. It's travelled a long way, but its meaning hasn't changed for me. Photo: Rossana Gudani
A Parol is an ornamental, star-shaped lantern, usually made of bamboo. And since about 90 per cent of people in the Philippines are Christian, most people have one. The light represents the star of Bethlehem, and guides people to prepare for the coming of the child Jesus.
We didn't have a lot in my home, but there was definitely delicious food on the table, including treats that were saved for special occasions. There were small gifts around the Christmas tree, including some from Santa. It didn't matter what gifts we received. The joy of getting a present stayed with me all these years.
Christmas with no presents
But not all children in the Philippines enjoyed Christmases like mine. I think about those from my neighbourhood who lived in poverty. I remember seeing boys and girls, some the same age I was, begging for money or selling flowers right after Midnight Mass. I often wondered if they would be having a celebration, just like us. As an eight-year-old, I always wondered whether they would be getting gifts.
In 2013, when the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, thousands of people were made homeless and to this date, still can't celebrate Christmas like they used to. But despite poverty and hard times, Filipinos always find a way to give gifts and celebrate. Many charities, like World Vision, continue to work with the people in the country to rehabilitate and rebuild.
Children in the Philippines beg for food or money, in the weeks after Typhoon Haiyan tore through the country in 2013. Photo: World Vision
The memories of other children begging and out in the streets on Christmas Eve, instead of being at home (if they had one), still linger in my heart to this date. So every year, I try to come up with ways to give back to the most vulnerable in different parts of the world.
Now I'm teaching my own children about giving at Christmas. I aim to show them how we can give all kinds of gifts, not just those tied up in brightly coloured paper. I started going through the World Vision Gift Catalogue with them last year and it was a hit with my kids! We gave animals to a family in need, a great way to help families in developing countries nourish their families while earning income, by selling things like eggs from the chickens.
It makes me so happy to know that children like Yenifer, in Guatemala, can have full bellies this Christmas because of gifts given by people like Canadians. Photo: World Vision
However, one of my daughters who was three at the time thought we were buying the chickens and goats for ourselves! She wanted to keep them! It was all part of the discussion, and it was fun explaining why the animals could do more good in the world if we never actually met them.
If you are celebrating Christmas, I hope you have a chance to relive happy childhood memories. As you gather with loved ones, share your blessings and enjoy your gifts, perhaps you can give a gift to a family from the place you grew up. What better way to share the light of hope this holiday season?
In the Philippines today, Nicole, Emerlyn and Jandel have simple Christmas celebrations, and hang decorations with a star at the centre. Just as we did as children! Photo: World Vision
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