#FiestaFilipinas Virtual Celebration: A Reverse Balikbayan Box for OFWs

It has almost been a year since the lockdown in the Netherlands. It reminds me not only of the fact that we have been struggling in a pandemic for more than year now, it is also a sad reminder that I haven’t seen my family or set foot in the Philippines for over a year now.

Coming home indeed has become a privilege and a personal pleasure for many Filipinos living abroad. Coming home meant a lot of things. It  meant enjoying the warm seas and burning sunshine. It meant fresh seafood and ripe mangoes. But mostly, coming home meant family. It meant enjoying dinners and breakfast at our round table every day. It meant sitting by our tumba-tumba on our veranda in the afternoon while my Mama and I fold the laundry. It meant movie nights with my siblings, and videoke with my Papa. It meant seeing my bestfriends and having drinks and long discussions until 3 in the morning.

There are so many things that I miss about the Philippines, its food, culture and the way we celebrate the little joys in life, despite of the challenges we experience every day. Usually when I come home during the summertime, I would try to visit an island or a province, and sometimes, if I’m lucky I would get to experience the fiestas currently being held there. However, this year, celebrating and dancing with the crowd, eating with bare hands in a boodle fights, or even hugging and kissing each other have all become almost impossible.

That is why when the Embassy of the Netherlands told me about participating in the “Fiesta Filipinas: An Online Celebration of Philippine Festivals”, I was overjoyed. The project is a virtual approach of celebrating the fiestas in the Philippines.

Source: DFA

Every month from December 2020 until May 2021, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs will send a package containing goodies, tokens and trinkets related to a fiesta celebrated in the Philippines. The aim is to simulate the experience of a festival through a combination of live and pre-recorded videos and live workshops and activities. “The project aims to introduce and showcase Philippine festivals, culture, and traditions to our global audience and invite them to the country when conditions are more favorable,” according to the Philippine Embassy in the Netherlands.

The kits came in a bit late, due to the problems in logistics and transport. But nonetheless, my husband and I enjoyed them. The first kit that arrived was the Giant Lantern Festival kit. In the video below, you would see how we made our first ever Parol. It is now proudly displayed hanging on our window in our home in Amsterdam, Christmastime or not.

Receiving Filipino delicacies also inspired me to cook more Filipino dishes, such as ginataang mais, which I paired with polvoron, my childhood favorite (I hoarded all the pinipig flavors).

 Just last week, I received my second kit, which was inspired by the Panagbenga festival (Flower Festival) in Baguio. Being a dried flower artist, this kit was my favorite so far. I put the dried flowers, which contained some wild grass native to the Philippines, in a bottle and placed it neatly in my collection of dried flowers.

The next kits that are bound to arrive are kits on Sinulog, Ati-Atihan, and Dinagyang Festivals (January 30),Visita Iglesia (20 March 2021), Lami-Lamihan Festival (24 April 2021), to end with the Flores De Mayo/ Santacruzan (29 May 2021). 

I found the tradition of gift-giving through box shipments very Filipino. I don’t know any other culture who does it with this much passion and love. For foreign readers, the Balikbayan box is a symbol of love and thoughtfulness. Usually sent once or twice a year by cargo shipping, Filipinos living abroad would usually fill a large box with pasalubong from their country of residence. The goodies may range from canned goods to shoes, chocolates and wine, and even, in my case, an airfryer for my Mama.

The Balikbayan boxes are a way of saying: “I am thinking of you, even when I’m not with you.” The Fiesta Filipinas boxes are somehow like a reverse balikbayan box, a way of my home country saying “I am thinking of you, even when you’re not here.” When you think of it that way, you could appreciate the contents of these kits even more.

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