Offbeat family traditions

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As much as it is the season for gifts and parties, Christmas is also the time for tradition. Apart from the usual potluck noche buena and program, there are other offbeat holiday traditions which our family enjoys.

We “gamble” on Christmas Eve. It’s simple betting, really, on the exact number of gifts under the tree. Since nearby relatives from my dad’s side of the family always spend Christmas Eve with us at our house in Quezon City, they bring along their gifts to pile together with our presents.

A few minutes past 12 midnight, while everyone digs into the noche buena spread, I distribute small strips of paper. Each strip/bet costs P10; one is allowed to bet as many times as he/she wants.

By the end of the meal, I collect the bets and separate them according to the numbers written on them. The total pot usually amounts to P500-P600.

We then gather in the living room around the tree. Our Santas (aka my dad, uncles, and male cousins) hand out the gifts one by one—they have to, so my tita can do a tally. Every 100 gifts, she lets us know the count, so we can keep track of our bets.

You would think that since we do this every year and have an idea of the number of guests at the party we can, more or less, calculate how many gifts will be distributed. But we like to keep things interesting, mixing in gifts we received from the office, or even the gifts we have yet to give to friends after Christmas. Besides, we always forget the previous year’s winning number, anyway.

At the end of the gift-giving, we wait eagerly for my tita to announce the final count. On the average, the total number amounts to 400-500. I go through the all the bets that are still in the running—whoever guesses the exact number, or has the closest bet to it, wins the whole pot. If there is more than one winner, then the money is split equally. (In my 25 years, I have only won once; luckily, I didn’t have to share the prize.)

Holiday dice

While that tradition includes everyone at the party, the other one is only for the kids—the apo who aren’t earning their own income yet. This is done after the gift-giving; it was started by my lolo and is now being continued by my dad’s sister (the same aunt who tallies the number of gifts).

The kids sit on the floor in a circle. One by one, they toss a dice. The number they roll is multiplied by 10; so, a five is equal to 50, which is equal to P50. Our tita hands out the money one by one as the kids take turns at rolling the dice. The game simply ends when there are no more bills to hand out.

These two traditions have been staples in our Christmas Eve celebration for as long as I can remember. There is one tradition, however, which we observe the whole year—the mañanita.

Whenever someone at home is celebrating his/her birthday, we make it a point to stay up until midnight, give that person gifts, and have a little cake and pansit and pizza and chicken. It was my dad’s eldest brother who started this tradition. After he passed away in 1992, the family still continued the practice.

Apparently there is a Spanish birthday song called Las Mañanitas. The word mañanita roughly translates to “early morning.”

If you think about it, the mañanita is a lot like the noche buena—and since there’s a birthday almost every month at home, it’s one tradition that helps keep the festive Christmas spirit alive in our family.

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