So what else can we non-Muslim OFWs do to get by the Christmas holiday without freezing our hearts out in the cold, winter weather in the middle of the desert?
1. Have company. If you are single and don’t have any family members with you here in the Kingdom, try not to spend the holidays solo. It will only reinforce the feeling that you are away from your family and let the somber loneliness take over. Surely your friends would also want some company this season, so a little gathering with food and hardcore karaoke is enough to get you by the night. Ilabas mo na lang lahat ng lungkot mo sa videoke!
1a. Enjoy your family. Some of us are fortunate enough to have at least one member with us in the Kingdom (it may be a distant aunt or cousin, or your whole clan might be here). It's worthwhile to be with them during this time of the year, so give them a call. Round up all the relatives you can find here in the Kingdom and organize a little get-together. Have a "Kris Kringle" exchange and share family stories over dinner time. You'll be glad you were with them this Christmas.
2. Offer prayers. You can do this of course in the comforts of your own home. Given that we can't participate in "Simbang Gabi" or any form of public mass or religious gatherings in the name of Christmas, we can compensate for this by doing our devotions at home. Christmas is a celebration of God's gift and it is only rightly so that we give thanks and dedication in the name of God's love.
As much as it is a time of giving, we should not forget to give back to the One who has given us so much. Having a strong sense of faith is one way to fight the gloomy nights away. In fact, if you have a wonderful relationship with your faith, you won't be feeling so cold and alone at all.
3. Shop 'til you drop! Retail therapy always helps us through rough times (for us ladies, that is). Christmas shopping has become an economic commodity and it's also a good (and expensive) way to get through the holidays. Get lost and drown in shopping mania (in the name of your friends and families, of course) and go purchase something nice and pretty for the people you care about. It is after all the season of giving. And with all the blooming sales that are abound, the ladies are definitely agreeing with us on this one! ;)
4. Perform acts of charity. On a less materialistic note, get involved in organizations that will be hosting events in honor of the less fortunate. Like we've mentioned, it is after all the season of giving. And performing acts of charity is giving at its best. It can be as simple as a monetary donation or better yet, a donation of your time and efforts to a worthy cause. One good idea is to visit a center of distressed OFWs, spend time with them, hear their stories and let them know that someone cares. The gift of service is one of the best gifts you can give this Christmas. This is something you can do on your own and it's not at all illegal in Saudi Arabia.
5. Keep warm but avoid the heat. The heat from 'religious police'* that is. As much as possible, steer clear of big, group events that are being held on the 24th and 25th. Muttawas* are aware of our Christmas holidays and our desire to be with our kababayans on this joyful occasion,. Sadly, they are able to raid such events and even arrest all in attendance. Most of the time, it's because of the mix of the opposite sex in one location. Keep in mind that public events involving the mixing of unrelated male and females is prohibited. Try celebrating two days before or after Christmas Day, and keep the party list to a minimum to avoid suspicion.
It is really difficult to be alone in a foreign country in a time like Christmas (and in a country like Saudi Arabia). Especially if we're used to the festivities in the Philippines this time of the year: the lechon, the keso de bola, the relentless carolers, the midnight walks to the church, the long glances at the Christmas lanterns and decorations while the noise of our families sound off in the background. A lot of things are to be missed...but we have to make do with what we can and let the spirit of Christmas prevail. No matter where in the world we may be.