When I think about filipino traditions I want to write about so called formal traditions–similar to celebrating Christmas Eve with a turkey and all the fixings. However, I find that it’s the everyday customs and traditions that are deeply ingrained that reveal more about Filipinos and the Philippines. Let’s look into some of the most popular filipino traditions including Mano Po, using the word Po, eating with a fork and spoon, balikbayan boxes and why it seems that all filipinos are related to each other.
When children or young people greet or say goodbye to their elders they typically do so by taking the right hand of the elder with their right hand and touch the back the elder’s hand lightly on their forehead. This act is called Mano Po. It is a way to give respect to elders and I’ve also understood it to be a way of accepting a blessing from the elder. Mano is spanish for ‘hand’ while the word Po is often used at the end of a sentence when addressing elders or superiors.
The word Po is often used when speaking with an elder or to a superior. Typcially, it is added to the end of a sentence. For example, thank you would be thank you po. In tagalog, salamat means thank you. To an elder you would say salamat po. The word po doesn’t really have a meaning but adds formality as a sign of respect.
My mom, who is in her 70’s, doesn’t really like the filipino tradition of saying po. She tends to get a little frustrated with always hearing po after every exchange in a conversation. She made all of my cousins laugh by telling them to stop staying po all the time.
Filipinos are All Related to One Another
It seems Filipinos are all related to one another. Our bloodlines certainly intersect somewhere but this so-called family relation is due to two things: 1) Our classification of family members is very simple, and 2) We refer to people that are not related to us as family members as a sign of respect. Let’s look into this filipino tradition a little further.
My mother has a first cousin. His name is Nelson. My mom and Nelson’s mom are sisters. Nelson is my first cousin once removed. I, however, consider Nelson to be my Uncle because he is of the same generation as my mother. Because he is of my mom’s generation I call him Tito, or Uncle.
Now, my mom’s best friend from nursing school is Landa. Landa is a few years younger than my mom but still of my mom’s generation. I call my mom’s best friend Tita Landa or Aunt Landa. We are not related but I still call her and consider her to be my aunt.
Additionally, Filipinos tend to use Lolo/Lola, Tito/Tita, Kuya/Ate as signs of respect for elders. For example, my mom introduced me to her coworker, Tessie. Tessie is clearly younger than mom but also older than me. I would never call Tessie by her first name alone. Instead, I call her Ate Tessie referring to her as an older sister. Clear as mud, right?
Lolo = Grandfather, Lola = Grandmother
Tito = Uncle, Tita = Aunt
Kuya = older brother, Ate = older sister
Living with Parents
Adult children living with their parents is another commonplace filipino tradition. In fact, I would have to say it is actually the norm. Unlike in the United States where children leave the home after finishing high school or college, Filipino children often continue living with their parents until they are married or even after they are married.
Eating with a Fork and Spoon
Filipinos usually eat with a fork and spoon. The fork, usually in the left hand, is used to place or push the food into the spoon which is held by the right hand. The spoonful of food goes into your mouth.
When cutting meat you should pierce it with the fork and use the edge of the spoon to cut. Since rice is a staple at almost every meal the fork and spoon method is ideal. Every grain of rice can be placed easily onto a spoon instead of hoping the grains don’t fall through the tines of a fork. I love practicing this filipino tradition because you can prepare the perfect spoonful of food everytime. A little rice, a bit of meat, some sauce (or sabaw), and a little bit of vegetable in every bite.
Eating with Hands (Kamayan)
In addition to the fork and spoon method, eating with your hands or kamayan is another common filipino tradition. Gather a small portion of meat or fish and a bite size portion of rice on your plate. Then use all your fingers to gather the food into a small mountain or mound. Pick up the little mound and put it in your mouth using your thumb to gently push the food in.
Filipinos usually eat rice that has a slightly sticky consistency so making the little mounds is easier than if you were to use a jasmine or basmati rice. Of course, this method of eating doesn’t work with soup/stew or noodles and other kinds of food but for your basic plate of rice, meat/fish and vegetables it works quite well! Next time you make dinner try eating kamayan.
It is very common for Filipinos to leave the Philippines to live and work abroad. A balikbayan is a filipino who is returning to the Philippines from living or working abroad. A balikbayan box is a box of items sent by the balikbayan to their family in the Philippines. The box can be sent or it can be brought by the sender when they themselves return to the Philippines.
Balikbayan boxes can be filled with almost anything but it is usually filled with items that cannot be found in the Philippines or items that may be too expensive for the average person to buy in the Philippines. Common items found in balikbayan boxes include: clothes, shoes, chocolate, nuts, vitamins, basketballs, coffee and tea, magazines, shampoo/conditioner, soap, body lotion, etc.
My parents sent balikbayan boxes throughout the year but always sent them to arrive in time for Christmas. We find out what the family needed/wanted and put everything in the balikbayan box. Our family LOVES getting the boxes. I suppose its just like Christmas Eve waiting and wondering what is in the box. My cousins would always tell me they savored the smell of the box right when it was opened- the smell of America. In February I continued the filipino tradition and sent a box to my mom. The box contained some gifts for the family and some of the belongings that my mom couldn’t in her luggage when she left. In March it arrived and I was in the Philippines when it did. I opened the box and sure enough it smelled like home- like America, as they all said.