For Filipino-Americans who have healthy (or at least tolerable) relationships with their extended families, the holidays mean big parties, even bigger meals, and creative ways to have a good time. Due to some miscommunication and travel plans that were out-of-sync, my family didn’t do our typical themed Christmas party, complete with attire specifications and a photobooth. But best believe I stopped by the humble Christmas Day dinner on the way to airport and ate enough to ensure a food coma on the plane.
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people with a healthy relationship with their family that go home during the holiday season’s instagram story:
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— malcolm-aimé (@malcolmaime) December 25, 2018
On Christmas Eve morning, my husband and I hopped in a car for an 8-hour drive so we could be with my family, albeit briefly, for the holidays. This meant ample time to endlessly scroll through social media in an effort to cure (or perhaps exacerbate) my FOMO. As I made my way down the Twitter feed and tapped through Instagram stories, an interesting pattern emerged – one that kept me glued to my phone until our plane took off at 11:30pm on December 25th.
As you might guess, I follow a lot of Filipino-American folks on social media. This includes family, friends that are basically family, people I know through my various Fil-Am community involvements, people I used to be friends with who have given me no reason to mash the “unfollow” button, folks I’ve met once or twice who run (or ran) in the same circles as me, and many others. The social media algorithms put all these people (and their parties) into my purview, as if the apps knew I wasn’t celebrating Christmas in the usual fashion. Below are five holiday party observations of Fil-Ams on social media.
1. Minute to Win It and Other Party Games
There was no shortage of simple, but high stakes party games that were easy to craft with affordable, household objects. Some recurring games:
- 1. Shaking ping pong balls out of a tissue box strapped to one’s butt
- 2. An assortment of stacking plastic cups really quickly
- 3. Transporting Skittles from one bowl to another using only a straw
- 4. Knocking plastic cups off a table using only the air blown into a balloon
- 5. Unwrapping a gift with oven mitts while another player rolled a die, in an attempt to kill your chance at reaching the gift in the center – some of those gifts were wrapped real good
My favorite thing about watching these games was the level of determination, participation, and excitement. No one seemed “too cool” for the festivities. Everyone from toddlers to grandparents played, or at the very least, watched and cheered. And the set-up! Some of these families should be out here selling minute-to-win-it branded party packs with the quality of their game assemblies.
2. Kamayans & Homecooking
I saw over a dozen kamayans (or boodle fights) in the week leading up to Christmas. Kamayans are definitely getting their shine on the restaurant scene, with foodies paying as much a $100 a pop to dig into a delicious spread atop banana leaves with their hands. But there is also something beautiful about family and friends gathering to cook the food, moving aside furniture in favor of folding tables and chairs, and sharing this meal in the comfort of a loved one’s home.
I also saw millennials learning to make Filipino dishes under the watchful eye of their parents or other well-seasoned relatives. I, for one, cannot cook Filipino food to save my life. I suspect this is one of the many reasons behind the increasing success of Filipino restaurants. Where our parents are not willing to shell out $10 for an entrée they could make themselves, I’m out here throwing my money at every turo-turo, Filipino fusion spot, pop-up, and everything in between. I absolutely loved seeing my friends learning to roll lumpia, make suman, and perfect their mom’s chicken adobo – all while mastering the extremely specific method of measuring ingredients we know as “until it tastes right.”
3. Brown Carabao (White Elephant)
Fil-Am millennials are definitely still participating in Christmas-capitalism by means of exchanging gifts. But we are doing so in an affordable manner because the holidays are not inflation-proof. The typical millennial salary simply doesn’t permit us to buy a present for everyone on our list. In recent memory, White Elephant has become a staple of work, friend, and now family gift exchanges. But in true Fil-Am millennial fashion, we have reclaimed the practice as Brown Carabao. We’ve also increased the stakes with built-in challenges and mini-games to win the right to steal gifts. Gone are the days of the $10 gag gifts from Spencer’s and predictable gift cards. When a Google Home Mini, a Nintendo Switch controller, and an Instant Pot are on the line, you better come ready to throw down.
4. Drinking. Lots of Drinking.
So. Many. Cheers-ing. Boomerangs. That or, “Ayyyeeeee!”
Three out of five things on this list involve games. Someone please tell me there is peer-reviewed research about why many of our traditions involve games and competition. Social media showed me many rounds of Bingo and LCR (the Left Center Right dice game). And of course, a throwback: mah jong. It’s no wonder a popular Tagalog idiom of frustration or disbelief – “anak ka ng jueteng!” – literally translates to “child of a gambler” or “child of the gambling den.”
Bonus Point: Friendsmas
The holidays mean people coming home-home and carving out time to reconnect with our closest friends. Some of these have evolved into a full on Friendsmas. So many of the gatherings I saw included the aforementioned traditions. All year long, we get busy with the hustle and some have moved away from where we grew up. I’m usually met by disbelief whenever I plan to be out of town over Christmas and New Year. In my experience, many Fil-Am millennials prioritize spending the holidays in their hometown (or feel obligated to do so; I know some of us have got that family guilt on lock). We might as well catch our friends and do it just as big as we do with family.
Bonus Bonus Point: Social Media Affirmations
Beginning in the days before Thanksgiving and going strong leading up to New Year’s Eve, I saw so many calls for self-love, positivity, and support for one another as we navigated this holiday season.
For many, these weeks are filled with quality family time that escapes us the rest of the year. It can also mean increasing pressure and judgement about school, career choices, body image, relationships, and having kids. Setting boundaries and speaking up for ourselves is not something we can simply do, especially at family parties. Where other families might see these as taboo topics, all of them are fair game as soon as you make your rounds kissing Titas hello. These harmful, toxic situations are unavoidable with the current generational gap and differences in fundamental values. I hope the acknowledgement of these feelings by my peers via social media helped others feel less alone or strengthened someone’s resolve to survive the annual gathering.
While folks in the Philippines enjoy Christmas all-ber months long, Fil-Ams are adding their own holiday traditions to the mix. I, for one, am trying to spend less time glued to my phone in the new year. But I absolutely love that social media allowed me to witness the advent of uniquely Fil-Am millennial ways to party. Can’t wait to see how we step up our holidays in 2019!