TACLOBAN, Philippines, 24 December 2013 – Christmas celebrations will be muted this year in Tacloban and across the Philippines, where more than 14 million people have been affected by one of the largest typhoons on record.
In the Philippines, for the millions still struggling to recover from the devastation left by a deadly typhoon, the holiday season is a time of both sorrow and celebration.
Yet less than two months after Typhoon Haiyan – known here as Yolanda – left a path of death and destruction, Filipinos are finding a way to celebrate the holiday.
In the Tacloban neighbourhood of Magallanes, a lone Christmas tree stands surrounded by debris and rubble. It’s one of many signs of hope amid the wreckage.
Ronis Miraflor, 18, stands by the tree he decorated. His father found it in the debris and gave it to him. “I was the one to put it here,” said Ronis. “I want to commemorate that Jesus is coming, and also to celebrate that we are alive and that as a family, we are all together. All our family survived Typhoon Yolanda. Even if we don’t have delicious food, we are happy because we are all together.”
In Tacloban and other areas, there are decorations made out of all sorts of things: Recycled bottles become ornaments; biscuit labels become garlands; and plastic foam cups become snowflakes.
It’s a bittersweet celebration in a country where Christmas is an important tradition for many people, a time for children and their families to gather together, share a festive meal and exchange presents.
This year, many people have lost loved ones, and many have no home, but they are thankful for what they have. Even with so much loss, they will still celebrate the holiday.
For Anna Sofia B. Galencian, a 9-year-old girl from Palo Central Elementary School, Christmas is also about generosity. “For me, Christmas is receiving regalos [gifts],” she says. “But also giving regalos to the poor people, so that they can also receive gifts.”
Sofia lost her house in the typhoon. “This Christmas will be different because of the tragedy that happened, and we no longer have a Christmas tree to put up,” she says.
But this doesn’t stop her and her family from trying to carry on some traditions. “Last Christmas Eve I had spaghetti. And this year I will have spaghetti, too,” says Sofia.
Sofia’s school is beautifully decorated for Christmas with recyclable materials: from the main tree hung with coloured plastic bottles to the nativity scene. Along the outside walls, children have painted Christmas cards with thank-you messages.
For Dr. Carla Ante Orozco, UNICEF Philippines Health Officer, the Christmas spirit is very strong. “The health workers that I interact with, they’re still excited to celebrate Christmas,” she says. “They still feel hope, but it may not be the usual festive holiday. It’s more about being with the family this time. That is more than enough.”
Story by Marissa Aroy and Diana Valcarcel