There’s something about the first of September that makes us excited and happy. It is the official start of the “Ber” months or the Christmas season in Philippines, which is known as the longest in the world. In a country where family and faith are the cornerstones of society, you will never run out of reasons why we love the Christmas season. Some malls and establishments are now adorned with Christmas décor while our favorite yuletide tunes are playing in the background. People cannot help but be merry this early.
Neighborhoods start decorating with the traditional parol as soon as they can. Eventually, Christmas lights, Santa and his reindeers, and even the Snowman will make an appearance. Condominium communities may not have the traditional setup but that doesn’t mean the holiday spirit can’t be felt. Most condos in the Philippines see to it that common areas are dressed with green and red décor as soon as “Ber” months begin. And just by walking down the hall, Christmas wreaths on the door are sure to make you smile.
What happens in the Philippines when September arrives?
1. Christmas songs dominate the airwaves
There is a fat chance that you will hear the year’s first Christmas carol whichever place in the Philippines you are in as early as the first of September. While driving a car, tune in to your favorite radio station and they might be already playing “Jingle Bells”. Stroll along the mall and you might already hear the very soothing voice of Jose Mari Chan while singing “Christmas in Our Hearts”.
2. Public places are decorated
Parks, highways, and streets are ornamented with Christmas lights and decors. No, it does not have to be expensive. Others do fine with very cheap but elegant decors. It may also be possible that their decors this year are the ones they hang at their home’s windows last year, just hanged in a different manner.
3. Shopping malls become crowded
Maybe because the items are discounted, or the Filipinos are collecting gifts before it reaches a higher price on December, it’s not sure. What is certain is that, although shopping malls become crowded, the ambiance is very joyous and festive—but then again, it’s still three months and 20-something days before it’s December 25.
4. Dawn becomes a favorite part of the day
Even before the religious tradition of attending a dawn mass nine days before Christmas, early mornings starting September become a very wonderful part of the day. A lot of people are already awake – smiling, rice cakes usually “bibingka” and “puto bumbong” are being sold along the streets, and there’s just a fun feeling that everyone and everything are your friends. It’s the nicest time to go to work or school far from the usual stressful commuting day.
In the end, no matter what economical or cultural explanations there are, Filipinos just celebrate Christmas for a long period. Maybe, amid all that they have gone through, they are just looking for an excuse to be happy—and rightfully, Filipinos are entitled to that.
Here are seven tips on how you can maximize your holiday spending:
Set your Christmas shopping budget.
How much can you allocate for your Christmas spending? This should be based on your finances. It may not be wise to finish up your entire 13th month pay on Christmas spending alone. Look at your past holiday spending and check this against your current budget so that you can come up with a figure that you can be comfortable with.
Make your Christmas expense list – and check it twice!
Include everything that you expect to spend on in this list – gifts for family, friends, your kids’ teachers, exchange gift items, etc.; Christmas bonuses for your household staff; Christmas Day and New Year meals; décor; travel costs; etc. You may want to differentiate between priority and non priority items. Also set a budget ceiling for each category of expenses.
Write down your gift list.
This is a good time to think of who you really want to give gifts to, and what you want to give them. Don’t feel pressured to give everyone. Consider giving gifts to groups of people – per family instead of per person. For your officemates, a collective gift may suffice. Don’t limit your gift choices to expensive gifts that come in a box.
Draw up your spending schedule.
Using your Christmas expense list as a guide, draw up a plan on when you would spend on the various items on your expense list. This way, you can spread out your expenses over a longer period so that you do not have to fork out money in one fell swoop.
Make bookings for your parties.
If you usually hold large parties or reunions, find a place now, while there is time to look for an appropriate one. If you plan to hold these reunions in a relative’s house, inform the family in advance so that they could book the date. If you prefer to hold your party in a public place, canvas while there is time and make your reservations early. Otherwise, only the expensive choices may be left.
Check out the sales and bazaars for gifts.
Take advantage of the sales approaching the end of the year to get gifts and other items that are still priced low. Bazaars also yield very inexpensive finds. Make sure you have your gift list with you when you go to shop.
Take advantage of credit card promotions and freebies.
Many promotions, running from zero percent interest to deferred payment schemes, are offered during the holiday season. Use these judiciously so that you do not go overboard with your spending, while allowing yourself to enjoy the flexibility that the promotions offer. The last thing you’d like to happen is to go into debt this Christmas.
In all these, try to be creative. Don’t think you need to get expensive presents or stage lavish parties. People can also be very touched with other meaningful gestures like helping them with their chores or just taking time to call them. Instead of grand Christmas parties, organize a visit to a charity like an orphanage or a hospice. This will be a more meaningful way to celebrate the spirit of Christmas.