The Christmas season is all about food and family — and nowhere more so than at the Padilla home in Red Deer, where more than 100 relatives will ring in the New Year.
Mauricia and her husband Arsenio (Sonny) Padilla will throw their annual Media Noche (New Year’s Eve) potluck on Dec. 31. Guests will include the couple’s two sons, their wives, and two grandchildren, as well as aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins from both sides.
A buffet dinner will be served — including the traditional Philippines fruit and egg platter with 13 different kinds of round edibles, for good luck. There will be games, prizes, dancing, and coins will be tossed in the air — again for good fortune, according to Philippines tradition.
“Everybody is here — more than everybody,” said the couple’s grand-nephew Carlo Galicia, 21, with a chuckle.
“God gave me these blessings,” explained Mauricia, who enjoys having her large family around after spending her first two Canadian Christmases alone.
In 1976, the trained nurse emigrated to Red Deer, where she knew no one. “It was my goal to better our lives,” said Mauricia, who had been living in poverty in the North Philippines, earning less than $10 a month, despite her nursing degree. “But it was very, very tough…”
She recalls walking along a cold, dark rural road to her first nursing job in Vegreville. “I was crying and scared… I was holding my rosary in one hand.”
Life became easier when her high-school sweetheart, Arsenio, arrived in Red Deer in 1978. The two married and began helping other relatives get jobs in Central Alberta.
Niece Mary Grace Galicia came to work as a nanny in 1999. Her son Carlo arrived at age 7 in 2003, and is now studying criminal justice at Lethbridge College, hoping to be a police officer.
The large clan takes turns hosting dinners throughout the Christmas season, celebrating in Philippines style. “We have the longest celebration in Asia,” noted Arsenio, a government food inspector. Mauricia, who’s now a financial advisor, after two decades in nursing, explained Christmas music on the radio, bamboo lantern decorating and caroling all start in September back home.
From Dec. 16 to 23, Catholic Filipinos attends mass daily from 4 a.m. and seasonal foods are prepared.
While some ingredients have to be be improvised in Red Deer, she still makes such tasty delicacies as: tupig, a coconut and glutinous rice dish wrapped in banana leaf; arroz caldo, rice porridge with chicken, garlic and eaten with an egg; and puto bumbong, made of black rice in a special steamer.
After midnight mass on Christmas Eve, guests will be welcomed to the Padilla home on Christmas Day. “It’s like your Halloween. We give gifts to all the kids, little candies, so they feel the spirit,” said Mauricia, who’s seen the local Filipino community grow over the years. It’s now our fourth largest ethnic group, following whites, Métis, and Latin Americans.