Why Staying Up All Night Became My Family’s Favourite Christmas Tradition

Spanish for “good night,” Noche Buena is the Filipino Christmas Eve feast that begins at midnight and lasts far into Christmas morning.

Noche Buena concept

Image Credits: Photo: Andrew Angelov/Shutterstock

The All-Nighter

As my brother and I removed the Christmas duck from the oven, my mom headed to my parents’ bedroom to wake my dad up from a nap. It was 11:30 at night.

“What do your friends say when you tell them we do this?” I asked my older brother. He laughed and answered, “They think I’m joking.” I was referring to Noche Buena.

Spanish for “good night,” Noche Buena is the Filipino Christmas Eve feast that begins at midnight and lasts far into Christmas morning. Dating back to when the Philippines became a Spanish colony in the 16th century, Filipinos embraced Noche Buena as a way to celebrate—and eat—after returning home from “Simbang gabi,” or “night mass.” Although my family never attended Christmas Eve masses in Canada, my parents kept the latter part of the tradition when they moved here 26 years ago.

Every Christmas Eve followed the same pattern: the four of us would spend the day rehashing classic, often embarrassing family memories—like my days as a benchwarmer in a youth basketball league—while watching a Home Alone marathon on TV. Unsurprisingly, after a while, it became hard to keep our eyes open.

In order to stay awake, we resorted to playing holiday music as loudly as possible. Nevertheless, my brother, mom and I would often catch one another falling asleep in the living room. My dad, meanwhile, would go for a quick snooze as soon as the duck was in the oven at nine o’clock. The rest of us were supposed to keep an eye on the bird.

Half of our feast, including my mom’s embutido, a Filipino-style meatloaf, and fruit salad, had already been made in the afternoon. Other dishes, like the peas, carrots and mashed potatoes my brother and I were responsible for, were whipped up closer to midnight.

We spent the final half-hour before Noche Buena popping in and out of the kitchen, hungry and sleepy, asking one another, “Is it midnight yet?” as if we didn’t know the answer.

But the wait was always worth it.

The roast duck, with its crispy skin and rich, succulent meat, was a hit every time. And while most Canadians were asleep, we were up until four in the morning eating, laughing and looking forward to the new year.

Next, read up on more uniquely Canadian holiday traditions.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada