Thank goodness for the Holidays! It’s that time of the year once again when we gather around for great food with our closest family and friends to celebrate Christmas. Tonight, it gets even more special as every home prepares the traditional Noche Buena feast.
In the Philippines, we are known for celebrating the longest Christmas season. The Christmas Fever begins September 1. It never fails to overwhelm my friends from other countries, really. If you are organizing a Holiday reunion, sometimes it takes an entire year to prepare it because everyone gets so busy around December, that it is best for you to block off everyone’s schedules months ahead.
Nothing Like Home
Most people these days will choose the convenience of renting a serviced residence or reserving a table at some cozy place over entertaining at home. The top consideration is cooking and cleaning up before and after the party. In many instances, travel time and space considerations also factor in.
Generally, for Christmas Eve at least, Filipinos would gather at one home, usually with extended families but, more and more people stay home with just their respective family units. Here’s a quick checklist that you can use to make sure that you’re ready to host Noche Buena and Media Noche at your place:
1. Clean your home. Where do you start? Good question. In general, start cleaning from the ceiling (make sure to dust off those spider webs!), then the walls and shelves, then down to the floor. The toilets in your home, not just the one that your guests will be using, need to be scrubbed. It pays for you to give more attention to this part of your house because you want your guests to feel comfortable when nature calls, not to mention, you want your house to smell fresh and clean, and bad smelling toilets can easily spoil that.
Add a bowl or hang a basketful of potpourri. In my toilets, I hang hand towels washed with fabric softener and then I spray just a little bit of a bleaching solution and fabcon. I use the same solution to clean surfaces and my floors. After that, the house smells wonderful! It is so much unlike when you just spray air deodorizer or place a gel freshner that dissipates in seconds, this one stays. I like spraying the same solution to my curtains, bedding, and rugs as well. I’m pretty sure when I get a sofa, it will get this same treatment too.
2. Decorate. The best part of home entertaining is bringing the Christmas spirit to your home. Of course it gets a lot harder and more expensive if you are decorating a larger space that includes both indoor and outdoor spaces. I personally like LED lights bright and white. This year, as we transition to a new home, I opted for a DIY, non-traditional Christmas tree. The kids and I saw this beautiful Eiffel Tower-inspired makeshift tree at the mall once — not for sale — made of silvery glittered strings that we tried to recreate it.
To do away with having to use steel to stand the tree, we opted for a thick silver insulation (cost: Php 150 per meter) which I rolled into a cone. I attached rhinestone bands (Php 150 per roll) to the outer side to make the material more shimmery. Then, I topped off with two 5-meter bright white LED lights with blinking functionalities. I must admit that it does not look much when the sun is up but, at night, it does feel like the stars in the heavens are gracing my home. I tacked some of the aguinaldos and bagged gifts on it to make it even more personalized.
I almost forgot to rave about how wonderfully, flowers can instantly cheer up and brighten your home. Make that a must for your centerpiece but also add bits and pieces to the periphery. These beautiful gifts of nature will also make your Holiday photos prettier and cozier.
3. Wrap up the gifts. What is Christmas without gifts? The season gets even merrier with these surprises. If you have little children at home or, as guests, Christmas Eve becomes merrier with gifts tucked under the tree. Hunting for the right gift for the right person at your budget level can be pretty tough but, always exciting. Don’t feel pressured to give expensive gifts just get something your friends and family members can make practical use of.
4. Let the Holiday music play. Add more Holiday cheer to your home’s ambiance with cheerful Christmas singing in the background. I personally like our local chorales singing to popular and traditional Philippines Christmas songs but, I haven’t had the chance to get copies of these. I settled for another great musical genre — that of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and their contemporaries. Music sets up your and your guests’ Holiday spirits.
5. Make sure you can stay relaxed. Make sure that you can sit down and talk to your guests when they arrive. Here are some pointers:
- Prepare everything that can be prepared ahead, ahead of time. From my in-laws, I’ve learned this cooking technique they call sinangkutcha (I’m not even sure I’m writing the term correctly here) but, the concept involves getting all the meat sautéd and boiled to your desired tenderness as early as the day before. On Christmas morning, you can just add in the sauces, spices and garnishing.
- Consider disposables. Don’t keep yourself away from entertaining your guests because you need to do the dishes in between. The environmentalists will have a say but, if you’re entertaining at home without maids, it really isn’t practical for you to bring out the silverware. I personally choose paper or starch plates and glasses over plastic plates so that your disposables remain biodegradable.
- Designate a trash collection area. This should be easily accessible to you and to your guests as well. Don’t have to collect soiled dishes. Your guests will be happy to throw in their own trash.
- Keep that toilet dry and clean. I regularly have a mopper in each of my bathrooms. I hate wet floors. I don’t remove those moppers from sight even with visitors. It’s sort of a cue for them to leave behind the floors as dry when they got there. Make sure there’s liquid soap in the sink and towels to dry their hands with. Add in alcohol and lotion when you can. I also like dropping those blue solid detergents into the tank. They help keep the odor away and pretty much last until your party ends.
6. Cook hearty, festive Holiday dishes. The stars of the feast. We all love food and they make gatherings even more memorable. I like making Hors d’oeuvres for my guests — simple ones, nothing fancy that requires cooking. I cut up celery stalks and carrots. If there’s cucumber, cut them up too. I have chips ready and prepare a dip made with ginger, juice of a slice of lemon, hot chilis, basil, onion chives, and a sauce made from reduced fresh milk and melted cheese. Wines and liquors should also be chilled and ready to be served. These will keep early birds busy as you wait for the others and put the finishing touches to your dishes.
Check out the following Holiday dishes that we make in our home and that you might want to try in your own kitchen:
From my family and I to yours, Merry Christmas and cheers to a prosperous New Year! We hope you find warmth in this season of joy.