Nasaan si Balikbayan?: How an OFW family celebrates Christmas

Photo courtesy of the Baquiran family

THE YEAR 2011 was the last time Hannah “Hans” Joy Baquiran physically celebrated Christmas with her father. This would be the tenth year they will celebrate the holidays with an unfilled seat by the dining table. 

As Hans and her mother Liza Baquiran prepared food and gifts for their relatives, her father Baroy Baquiran would set up his device in time to see his family’s smiles back home. 

Liza’s phone would eventually ring, she would answer and would be greeted by her husband’s voice. 

From Qatar to the Philippines, a virtual connection allows them to share the joy of celebrating the Holidays. From screen to screen, they would endure the longing that precedes their situation—all in hope for their family in these coming years.

Holidays Remembered

After Hans’ elementary graduation, her father stopped coming home for Christmas due to work constraints and practicality. Since summers meant more time together and no school, the holidays were exchanged for summer vacations, much to Hans’ sadness. 

“Christmas meant a lot to me because I was a kid who loved Christmases,” she said. “To me, it was a time when everyone was together, and my dad was there.”

To the children of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), holidays mean loved ones coming home with gifts and being complete as a family. But even when there is homecoming, there are 11 long months of missing each other. 

Hans, now a communications major, reflected, “A part of me sometimes doesn’t want to be okay with my dad not being here, but I have to be. It’s ‘a child of an OFW’ staple to understand the sacrifices they make, but I always ask myself, ‘what is he doing there [during Christmas].’” 

Socially-Distant Christmas 

Han’s father, Roy, has been missing his family’s embrace for two years now due to COVID-19. On his last return home before the pandemic, he spent his time home eating with relatives, watching movies, and physically spending time with his family.

Due to circumstances, bonding moments became more limited. These limitations may be the international borders or internet connection. 

Baquiran said, “This global pandemic undoubtedly changed the normal way of life of every person, but apps like Facetime and Viber eased the loneliness of not being physically present in these special days.”

“These technological advancements really helped us OFWs,” he added.

Baquiran and his fellow OFWs turn to technology to get a glimpse of their families’ smiles and voices—a practice that remains unchanged even before the pandemic existed. 

As holidays begin, fathers and mothers turn to messaging apps to celebrate with their families online, sharing the love and joy of Christmas from any distance.  

Liza agreed with this sentiment, saying, “social media gave us the means to keep in touch. My husband can see our festivities and celebrate it with my side of the family as if he is here with us; I think the biggest adjustment was the four-hour time difference, which seemed crazy at first.”

But even with messaging apps bridging socially-distant gaps, the longing remains between the ones in the country and those who had to sacrifice by working abroad. 

Holiday struggles

Photo courtesy of the Baquiran family

As an OFW, Baquiran’s biggest challenge is not being with his loved ones during Christmas. 

He shared, “I sometimes feel lacking since we celebrate holidays with our loved ones as Filipinos. Spending it away from them is indeed a sacrifice.” 

Being family-oriented, Filipinos equate the holidays with family time. This disconnect from the culture and their family affects OFWs immensely, even during regular days and holidays. 

“Loneliness is the word,” Baquiran said. He continued, remembering why he has to work abroad, “But I still need to face reality.”. 

As they face loneliness and disconnection, the Baquirans turn to faith to sustain their family. Liza shared, “This pandemic, we learned the importance of time, family, health, [and] keeping things in balance and simple.” 

“Staying strong and close with each other no matter what the distance is, and being close to God and trusting Him more,” she added.

As the pandemic continues, faith comes with the hope to celebrate the holidays as a complete family. Whether a loved one is on a screen or with us physically, the holidays have a way of keeping families in solidarity.  F Lila Victoria Reyes

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