Why Finding Ninong and Ninang is a Toxic Filipino Trait

A few years ago I overheard a teenage boy bullying his uncle into giving him his holiday aguinaldo.

By “overheard,” I mean he was loudly berating the older man for being “cheap” and peppering him with unsavory adjectives until he finally gave in. 

The uncle gave him a hundred-peso bill, from what I heard, while the younger man mellowed down a bit saying he didn’t need the whole hundred and that just a fifty-peso bill would do. 

Did he feel ashamed of his guilt-tripping or was he being sarcastic? Either way, I went back to sleep.

Now wide awake and reflecting on that touching moment, I wonder how would that young man fare in our current state of pandemic? Would parents caution their children to be tactful and refrain from asking for money from their ninongs and ninangs? Or would they encourage this ghastly holiday tradition in the hopes of getting more funds for their holiday dinners?

I received money from my aunts and uncles as a child, of course. But I didn’t give it much thought until I was much older. 

As an adult, I realized that I was expected to give money or gifts to young children who would call me ninang. This led me to ask why this Filipino trait existed—would it qualify as a toxic Filipino trait?

We give gifts to mark occasions—birthdays, weddings, graduation ceremonies—as a way to congratulate the recipient. Both giving and receiving gifts cause the body to react by making happy hormones serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. This is why we associate that warm, fuzzy feeling we get during the holidays with the joys of exchanging gifts (apart from consuming decadent food and alcohol).

Presents, in this sense, are therapeutic. So where does the malicious undertone come from?

In recent years, I came across a few memes and posts reminding people that godparents are there to guide children in their formative years and do not exist as annual ATM.

Just the thought that we have to put that in writing sets into question the methods and intent of these allegedly money-hustling godchildren and their parents.

Perhaps some of them have gone overboard and backed their godparents into a corner, asking for cash to spend on their birthdays. 

Maybe some people decided to take advantage of their godparents with decent jobs, goading on them to buy this and that. It is quite possible that those godparents, who knew very well what they went through to earn that money, had just about enough of their scheming toxic Filipino ways.

A while after those greedy-godchild-shaming posts appeared, I noticed another trend. People were posting “guidelines” for their inaanaks to follow if they wanted to receive their precious aguinaldos.

Some of them wanted the children to answer simple math equations or general scholarly questions. Others wanted a present in return, most notably a macabre human sacrifice known as “a ninong for ninang.” 

While hilarious, some may find it somewhat troubling that the latter “guidelines” promote the need for an exchange of presents. It’s like saying that if you have nothing to give, you shouldn’t expect to receive anything.

While hilarious, some may find it somewhat troubling that the latter “guidelines” promote the need for an exchange of presents. It’s like saying that if you have nothing to give, you shouldn’t expect to receive anything.

Though I believe it truly might deter some of the greedy teenage godkids. It would certainly urge them to study, at the very least.

How do we go about this now? Should we make an effort to give presents to our godchildren? Should we prompt an official exchange of gifts because, honestly, nothing is for free anymore? Or can we just give what we can when we can? I can’t answer for everyone, but my choice would be the latter.

I’d prefer to give for the sake of giving instead of in anticipation for what I may receive. I’d want to give gifts that I can afford to those people I love. If I can’t afford a gift at this time, I would hope that my sincere friendship will do (if not, you can forget the friendship, too). 

On a serious note, the gifts I give may be frugal, but the love I impart them with is no less strong. 

I am hoping that this surreal pandemic will inspire people to appreciate what they have and to give what they can to those who matter to them the most.

About the Author

Cielo F. Lagera, RPh is a Pharmacist by profession, writer (or trying) by heart.

She likes to cook but is slightly manic about it. She loves coffee, dogs and fried chicken.

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