Americans who are living in the Philippines sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because the country--or at least Manila--imitates American commercialism, the two cultures are similar. But beyond a similar fondness for Starbucks, I have experienced the two cultures as being vastly different.
Every first tour family may find their first holiday season away from home difficult, which is partially why we spent December 25th in Singapore. However, beyond the emotional aspects of missing family and friends, I found the holiday season in Manila to be more stressful than in the US.
Philippine culture is family and group oriented, and in general, Filipinos are very generous. If you have something, you must share it, even if doing so is a hardship. You may be poor, but there's someone in your extended family who is poorer, and you are expected to contribute some of your income to that person. Especially at Christmas time.
The expectation to GIVE can feel, to an American, overwhelming, but based on the traffic, aggression, and general tension in the city starting November 1st and only breaking on January 1st, it must be stressful for Filipinos as well.
The culture also has high expectations regarding spending. For example, the required contribution for a nearby domestic helper/driver holiday gathering was a day's salary--give or take a little depending on one's earning power. What would you do if you learned your required contribution to your office party was a day's pay?
Filipinos embrace life with a positive, live in the moment, bahala na (Leave it to God) attitude that make such cultural traditions enjoyable. It is this same attitude that Filipinos draw upon when they are smiling through extreme hardship.
Meanwhile, I am already working on spending November and December 2011 on an isolated beach.
New Year's Eve, however, is fantastic. Find someplace high to watch the panoramic view of the surprisingly large fireworks coming from everywhere you look. Viewed from a safe distance, the show is wonderful, even when someone is shooting fireworks horizontally off their high rise balcony, and someone else is launching them towards this same balcony, so that the fireworks appear to be hitting the side of the building. Unfortunately, this fantastic show is not without consequences, and the latest count of New Year's injuries is up to 929. Because after all, if you don't have any fireworks, shoot your gun instead. It's all about the noise.
The following image is from 2010, but it gives you an idea.