Culture

Why Disney’s New Filipino Christmas Video Feels Like More Than Just an Ad

Like many Filipinos who grew up abroad, Christmas traditions are one of my few connections to family and culture in the Philippines.
November 9, 2020, 11:14am
christmas
Collage: VICE / Images: (L) Still from Disney video. Courtesy of Disney EMEA, (R) Me with my family. 

Heartwarming family stories are nothing new for Disney but one featuring a Filipino family like mine certainly is. Which is why I, along with many other Filipinos, was moved by the animation studio’s latest Christmas ad.

Released online today by Disney UK, the 3-minute animated short features a Filipino girl who grew up abroad. One of her connections to Filipino culture — Christmas traditions with her lola (grandmother). As a Filipino born and raised in Singapore, the video left me overwhelmed with emotion.

The short centers on the girl and her grandmother’s yearly tradition of making a parol every Christmas, a star-shaped lantern seen all over the Philippines during the holiday season. As the girl grows older, she loses interest in spending time with her lola. But in a heartwarming surprise, she decides to decorate their home with parols, taking her lola back to her younger years in the Philippines.

The video is part of Disney EMEA’s 2020 From Our Family To Yours campaign and was produced by Flux Animation Studio in New Zealand. It will air across Disney’s channels in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, North America, and parts of Asia.

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The story hit close to home. Ever since I was a child, I would feel magic in the air and pure joy in my heart as soon as September rolled around. Filipino families typically start preparing for the holiday months in advance and we were no exception, even if we were in Singapore. 

Every year, without fail, we would deck our home in all kinds of decor, from our mistletoe-patterned tablecloth to the “Merry Christmas” sign on our door that greets neighbors who walk by. Any non-Filipino friend who visits is always amazed by the efforts we put in. 

I remember jumping up and down with excitement every time my dad placed the star atop our Christmas tree. But the highlight will always be noche buena, or Christmas dinner. My mom would spend the day preparing a special feast with dishes like sopas (macaroni soup), sapin-sapin (layered glutinous rice cake), and the must-have Christmas ham. Once the clock strikes midnight, we’d be sitting around the dining table, digging in.

Even though Christmas is still a special holiday to me, watching Disney’s ad made me feel a pang of regret over losing my childlike sense of wonder, just like the granddaughter did. As I grow up, I’d be lying if I said the excitement over Christmas hasn’t worn off even just a little bit.

It also made me miss my home in the Philippines. We try to visit and celebrate Christmas with relatives every year but we won’t be able to this time around because of the pandemic. Even though I was born and raised in Singapore, it’s all the Filipino traditions my parents brought with them that make up a large part of who I am.

Most of all, the video made me feel seen.

It’s one of the few times I felt represented. From the ‘mano,’ a gesture used as a sign of respect to elders, to the parol, I loved seeing all the little things I grew up with. There are about 200,000 Filipinos living in Singapore but I rarely see us represented in the media. The Disney video made me feel like I have a place in this world and other Filipinos — many who grew up outside the motherland, like me — felt the same way. 

The feeling I got from seeing a face that looked like mine on screen is indescribable. I just hope it happens more often as it’s a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of.