3 days before Christmas: Work is still up to my ears here in Jakarta. Whilst Manila is already on holiday mode, I’m in back-to-back meetings, with a Christmas tune in my head (Chestnuts roasting on an open fiiiiire…).
To be fair to Indonesia, it’s not all that bad. Luckily for the expats here, although Indonesia is a Moslem society, there is more religious tolerance compared to other more conservative countries.
Yes, people, we are allowed to celebrate Christmas here, in case you are wondering. Both my office and apartment buildings have towering Christmas trees.
I usually come back to Manila for the holidays, but this is the first time that I’ll be touching down in Manila exactly on the 24th, so I will be missing a lot of the Manila festivities.
How does it feel, apart from getting homesick? I had a few realizations and musings, between wrapping Christmas presents, rushing to meetings and daydreaming of chocolate batirol.
- You miss the pre-Christmas party lunches, dinners and reunions. For the friends and ex-colleagues who miss you, they either Photoshop your face on the group photos, or in my case, they made videos and placed my name on their group shots. The upside of missing out? Less calories to burn post-holiday season.
- You miss Simbang Gabi. Ergo, you miss all the other good stuff that come along with it: bibingka, puto bumbong, taho and that Christmas cool air that greets you when you go to church at 4am. There is this distinct Christmas air that you feel in our country that you won’t feel anywhere else. I know so, having been able to celebrate the holidays in other countries. It just feels…different.
- You create your own Christmas traditions with your circle of friends in your second city. As you cultivate friendships along the way and create your own inner circle, you get to create new Christmas traditions. In my case, it’s the annual Christmas champagne brunch where I get to exchange Christmas presents with my friends and one-on-one Christmas lunches with other colleagues before we all fly out to our home countries.
- When you finally, finally come back home to Manila for a very short holiday break, you get to appreciate all the little things that make Christmas such a huge deal: misa de gallo, hot chocolate and queso de bola for Noche Buena, the mess of ribbons and wrappers after opening the presents, little kids singing Christmas carols in the streets, the shopping rush at S&R a few days, or even a few hours, before Christmas – all of it. You miss all of it.
- In the end, though, your sense of gratitude for being an expat throttling between two cities heightens. I miss Manila and I will always miss it, but being an expat increased my gratitude for all the things that I experience and even the things that I miss out on. I get to miss my favorite things in Manila, but when it’s time to face the music again, I feel great that I can go back to the other favorite things that I became fond of here in Jakarta. Would you believe that I’ve been chowing down sambal and Indonesian food in the past few days because I’m gonna miss it when I come home to Manila? I guess I will carry this dichotomy for as long as I call these two cities my home, and truth be told, it sits with me just fine.
To all my fellow Jakartan expats, enjoy all the lechon, queso de bola and kakanin back home.
To everyone, may this season bring you and your families joy, faith, hope and love. Maligayang Pasko sa ating lahat!