Not Your Normal Holiday Season In Samar, Philippines

Normal for some maybe…

The Christmas season celebrations here in the Philippines customarily extends through the “Ber months (beginning in September), but for some reason our season has seemed to be abbreviated this year. Not because there has been any shortage of enthusiasm, but I believe because the weather has kinda put a damper on things this year. While the local stores all had their holiday wares on display early, the typical “spirit of the season” generally did not show up in September, and October seen few decorating trends. From the beginning of September, the Philippines has experienced a minimum of 10 storm events, all prior to the arrival of Typhoon Hagupit at the beginning of December.

Typhoon Timeline for 2014
Typhoon Timeline for 2014

This I believe, made for a rather weary populace overall. Although the typhoon season officially ends on November 30, and just as things should be approaching a holiday climax, Typhoon Hagupit (or Ruby as she was named here in the Philippines) disrupted the early December celebrations by making landfall near Borongon in Eastern Samar as a Category 3 typhoon on the 4th of December. As the storm made its way across Samar, the rugged terrain of Samar island humbled the storm back to tropical storm strength, but it still managed to have a huge impact on us for the next 10 days. The storms passing did relatively little damage from winds (in our area), but the heavy rains seemed to dampen the festive mood momentum, and the reversal of the wind field after the storm center passed caused much confusion and added fears of tidal surges. The storm actually made a southern turn just before impacting Eastern Samar and made a beeline straight for Calbayog City. It was a direct hit. I asked my mother-in-law (through well-managed interpretation) if she had ever experienced a direct hit in all of her 84 years of typhoon experiences and her answer was no. She added that this was one of the worst she had ever seen (not sure about the validity of either her recollection of storms past, i.e.,her memory) but that in itself was what both my wife and I wanted to hear and provided relief to us both going forward. Though, it still didn’t detract from the fact that the island of Samar was, once again, without power for an extended period. It was just a short 13 months earlier that Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated Tacloban on the island of Leyte to the south of us, disrupting our power for 27 days. This time it was only 10 days…but even that is a long time for the many businesses and people who rely on power for their everyday needs. We learned last year that a generator was a great investment…for both our sanity, and in helping to keep things cool (like water, soda and beer).

One of our two large lighted wreaths
One of our two large lighted wreaths

Anyway, I had just barely finished putting up the outdoor decorations when I had to take them down in preparation for the storm. By the time I got them back up it was the 7th of December and in plenty of time for the Christmas caroling season, which kicks off on the 16th of December here in our village. Come the 16th, we had nine days of caroler’s to look forward to – making their rounds and sounds of joy and happiness. Inside the house, because we recently adopted two kittens, we decided this was not the year to go all out and put up the big tree with many ornaments, and all the other shiny little Christmas objects that we normally display around the house. Neither one of us felt like entering the “babysitting” mode for the entire holidays, so we became decorating “Minimalists” this year. That’s not to say we didn’t put up anything that didn’t attract at least some curiosity, it means we made some calculated decisions as to what and where we would display certain things (mostly the unbreakable ones). It all worked out in the end as the two young cats stayed fairly entertained with all the visiting nieces and nephews who garnered all their playful attention, keeping them well occupied.

It wasn’t long after Tropical Storm Hagupit that the holiday spirit began to return and good moods quickly reappeared, even with no electricity! (Power eventually returned around the 15th.) By the time Christmas Eve finally arrived, most people when asked would say, storm…what storm?  One of the many good traits among the Filipino people is that they don’t dwell much on the past. Oh, they never forget their loved ones and have death anniversary remembrances gatherings and such, but events like natural disasters….they just pick-up the pieces and mostly move forward.

42 year old downed Arcasia tree
42-year-old Arcasia tree downed by Typhoon Hagupit 

The Christmas celebrating was at our house this year (it was also at our house last year and will probably be here again next year) and the family was invited to come and stay for the duration of festivities. We have plenty of room, futons, pillows, and blankets (yes blankets…our house is air-con and people here tend to freeze rather easily). (On a side note: we have learned there is a direct correlation between the frequency of visits [and lengths of stays] by visitors/family members and the temperature setting on the air-conditioner…it is considered one of our most valuable “return to peace and quiet” tactics in our inventory.) We had a pre-Christmas Eve Lunch (day before Christmas Eve), and then a big spaghetti dinner that evening. Leftovers kept everyone well fed going forward and the cooking really never stopped until late on Christmas Eve. In most western countries, Christmas dinner is the main event on that day (at least for the adults it is) but here in the Philippines, the celebrating leads up to the climax of it all…Midnight, and the birth of Jesus Christ (lest I remind my readers this is a predominantly Catholic nation). Most folks will eat and drink up to that very moment of the stroke of midnight – to the point that most visiting foreigners would think for certain that they lost a calendar week somewhere and it was now New Years Eve. After that, everyone begins to unwind…albeit, slowly.

And once again, just as Christmas day back-slides on the December calendar, another tropical storm arrives…this time crossing much farther to the south across the norther tiers of Mindanao. Tropical Storm Jangmi came and went at a very slow pace, and not without bringing about 4 days of almost non-stop rains for our area. And again, flooding and landslides wreaked havoc with the safety and lives of the affected Peoples of the central and southern Philippines. It is gone now and it is New Years Eve. The rains have almost ended, but the celebrations for the new year continue. The noise makers have returned, this time with all the fanfare of fireworks…and some pretty loud ones I might add. I have about 15 large bottle rockets in my inventory that will vanish in the skies over our village tonight…in celebration of another year past (at this age, you celebrate years in arrears, not the ones you haven’t got to yet!). There will also be a hidden message in each rocket I send up tonight…all in an attempt to help summon the sun-god to show up with the New Year Tomorrow.


See ya Nest Year!
See ya Nest Year!

4 thoughts on “Not Your Normal Holiday Season In Samar, Philippines

  1. Salamat! Thanks for the nice articles 2014! Keep on posting and a very happy year 2015! God bless!

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