Christmas is the most important holiday in the Philippines and we celebrate it all out. That means games, carol-singing, a 9-day series of Holy Mass (for Catholics), and our favourite — gift-giving.
And because everyone likes to give, we exchange gifts: food for neighbours and personalised items for friends and family. We give and we receive. But as they say, the true spirit of sharing lies in giving to those who cannot repay you.
That is how my family started a tradition of giving gifts to struggling families every Christmas. It began as a small family project where every member would pitch in whatever extra money we have.
But the last two years were a little different. In 2020, I mentioned my family tradition to Maarten, the founder of Gecko Routes. He loved the idea and asked me if there was a way for him to get involved. So we teamed up to create extra gift packages with Gecko Routes’ support and bring some holiday cheer to even more families. We continued this initiative this year.
Sharing the joy of Christmas
For many Filipino families, the holidays are a time to come together and enjoy a special meal or feast. That’s “Noche Buena” for Christmas Eve and “Media Noche” for New Year’s Eve. Both are sumptuous meals served at midnight on 24 December and 31 December — best shared with family, extended relatives, and friends. The more, the merrier!
It’s not really about how much food you put on the table, just as long as you have something to share with your loved ones. And for us Filipinos, we’ll be happy as long as we have spaghetti!
In this gift-giving, we gave out Christmas packages for a simple holiday feast: spaghetti, tomato sauce, banana ketchup (we like our spaghetti sweet), cheese and corned beef. We also added daily life staples like rice, coffee, sugar, and cooking oil — necessary items they won’t have to worry about for another week.
How we choose our recipients
My family carefully picks our recipients through trusted connections. We want to give to hardworking people who deserve to receive — security guards, street sweepers, street vendors and junkshop workers.
Edna, a mother of seven and wife to a construction worker, is one of our recipients. She shared that pre-pandemic, they would receive a Christmas package every year from a local private school. But since COVID, they haven’t heard from the school’s organisers.
“No matter how hard we work, we never earn enough to have a Christmas feast, so we just sleep through it,” Edna told us. “Now, we can finally celebrate again! Our children will be so happy. Words cannot express how grateful we are.”
She added that the grocery packs will help her stretch the family budget and make the most of their resources. This means the world to these parents, who often earn less than the minimum wage of 570 PHP ($10) per day (as of 2022).
Long-term impact and addressing poverty
Poverty in the Philippines has been a persistent problem for decades, with around 18.1% of the population living below the poverty line as of 2021, according to the World Bank. This means that they struggle to afford basic necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare.
While this gift-giving brings joy and temporary relief to those in need, it is just one small part of the larger goal of addressing poverty in the Philippines. We can’t solve the problem overnight, but we believe that these small acts of kindness can make a big difference in the lives of those who receive them.
A note on sustainability
Our team at Gecko Routes cares deeply about the impact we have on the planet, which includes our goal to minimise plastic use. But we want to be transparent with you.
In this case, opting for biodegradable alternatives would come at the expense of feeding more families in need. Sadly, in developing countries like the Philippines, there aren’t many affordable ways to cut down on plastic.
Are you feeling inspired by our story? You can make a difference in your community, too! Here are some examples of ways to get involved and help those in need:
Volunteer: Pick an organisation that resonates with you and volunteer to support their work.
Donate money or goods: Many organisations accept monetary donations or specific items that can be used to help those in need.
Advocate for change: Write letters and make phone calls to your local representatives, or speak out on social media. Your voice is a powerful tool to raise awareness and bring about positive change.
Why giving back matters
As a travel company and as travellers ourselves, we feel we have a responsibility to see not just the beauty of the world but also its problems.
We’re very grateful to live, work and travel in some incredible places. We want to share that privilege and make a positive impact on the local communities. I’m really happy that one of Gecko Routes’ goals for 2023 is to give back.
It was so heartwarming to see the happiness and appreciation on the faces of the families we helped. Next Christmas, we want to reach even more people through fundraising! Maybe you will join us?
Ela is a storyteller, content producer, solo traveller and a mermaid-in-training. When she’s not in front of her laptop, you will find her barefoot and living her best tan on some island in the Philippines… Or exploring the depths of its seas as a budding freediver. An island girl at heart, she’ll be happy anywhere there is sea, sand, sun and coffee.