I Won’t Be Home for Christmas


Excel V. Dyquiangco talks with those who occupations will keep them away from their families during the holiday season.


Filipino Middle East Working During Holidays

Sad but true. There are many occupations right now that require employees to work even during the holiday season. Call center agents, seafarers, flight attendants and pilots are just some of the people who work nonstop when everyone is just celebrating – and in very high spirits – during Christmas Day.


How do these people and their families then cope with each other’s absences? What do they do when homesickness or loneliness settles in?


Kristine Odessa Policarpio – Parungao (Call Center Team Leader)

8 Years in Service

The first Christmas Kristine spent away from her family was in 2004, her first year as an employee. Because she was single back then and it was a new experience for her, it was kind of exciting as she has never celebrated holidays without her relatives. “Basically, call center employees would bring their “handas” from home and eat together during our breaks or go partying after their shifts,” she says. “You would see some logging on their phones to call or send messages to their loved ones or simply greet the people stationed near them. For us, holidays were just an ordinary working day. We simply shrug off that lonely feeling and endure the 9-hour shift. You’re lucky if those days fall on your assigned days off.”


For Kristine, the Christmas Eve is the most challenging day to report for work. Imagine leaving your house in the middle of festivities, passing by empty roads or homes where you see merriment, envying people who are on vacation. “When I was promoted, I was able to spend one holiday out of office per year – either Christmas Off or New Year off,” she says.


“But this year will be totally different as I have my own family and with my son who just turned a year old. This would definitely be the most painful and tears would definitely flow. But at the end of the day, this is the profession that I chose. I marked the question: “Are you willing to work on holidays?” with a check upon my employment so I have no choice but to deal with it.”


Kristine says that what she would surely miss is to be able to greet, kiss and hug her family as the clock strikes 12 on Christmas Eve, but she remains optimistic, “But the holidays are just two out of the 365 days in a year. Some adjustments can always be made.”


Christian Mercado (Flight Steward / Cabin Crew)

Philippine Airlines, 11 Years in Service


December 20, 2008 is a date Christian can still remember clearly because not only would he be leaving for San Francisco, but he would also be leaving his family behind. This trip he considers a blessing since he would only be gone for five days but still, the longing is evident in his heart. “It was really hard for me to leave since it was my daughter’s first Christmas and I wasn’t be able to spend it with her,” he says. “It was a little sad, but I know I can still spend a lot of time with my family even after Christmas.”


So when the airplane finally landed in the USA, he decided to shop for gifts for his family. Later, he called his family at home to wish them well. When it was time to go back to the Philippines, it was already Christmas Eve. Up in the air, he celebrated the holidays with his co-workers and the rest of the cabin crew by having “Noche Buena” meals in the galley. At the same time, he and the others exchanged gifts.


As the nature of his work dictates, Christian has had to sometimes spend holidays away from his family. On some occasions, he has celebrated Christmas in another country with his friends.


“I am blessed that my wife and I have friends and relatives I can spend Christmas with while in the USA and Canada,” he says. “And I spend it the same way as I would here in the Philippines. Of course, things would even be much better if I am with my wife and my kids. We usually have a small gathering with our families, have dinner, and play game boards while waiting for Christmas so we can open our gifts!”


Does he have plans of shifting professions so he can spend time with his family during the holidays? “I love my job,” says Christian. “My wife was a former flight attendant and she understands. Most people work all week, with perhaps one or two days off over the weekend. Most receive one to two weeks of vacation per year. As a flight attendant, I have the ability to group my flights together in a given month, and have 1-2 weeks off every month! And that is in addition to my regular vacation time!”


Doz Rendon (Seafarer)

2 Years in Service


An on-the-job training during his third year in university prompted Doz to agree to being on board an international vessel for one year. He was gong to be traveling the course of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ecuador, Chile, Panama Canal, Mexico and Seattle, Washington. When he learned of this work, he didn’t want to leave the country and his family since this was the first time he would be dispatched. They were all crying at the airport.


Over the course of the one year, it was aboard a vessel where Doz spent his birthday, Christmas and other events – alone for the first time.


“Christmas just breezed through since I was working in operations on a tanker ship during that day,” he says. “No celebrations or decorations since everything is just critical; anything may happen. It was only when we were done with work and we started to set sail that we had the time to celebrate and decorate for both Christmas and New Year.” When he saw his fellow comrades getting ready to leave the ship, he wanted to just go home with them. At night when all was silent and the work was done, he read the letters and the slum book given to him by his family and friends. “My mother gave me two devotional books during this season,” he says. “I also bought and brought several books. I just read and re-read it and surprised myself since I’m not a reader! But with the loneliness on board, there was nothing I could do but to engage in some form of leisure.”


His only form of communication with his family was purely through email – with a limit of 160 characters and which came in late since had to go through a satellite before reaching the respondents. His homesickness was relieved upon reaching the port; the he could call his family and greet them even though the holidays were already over.


He admits that the first three months on the ship was really difficult but as time passed, he got used to the routine.


This year Doz is setting sail again, this time around the country of Venezuela. He was hesitant at first when he learned of this journey since he would be spending Christmas away from his family again. But when he thought of their needs, he dutifully and joyfully accepted the mission. He already knew how he was going to make his time onboard another fruitful year.


Teofilo Padilla (Rig Physician)

1 Year in Service


Teofilo Padilla has been working as an offshore Rig Physician (an oil drilling doctor in the middle of the sea) in Saudi Arabia for a year now. He found his first Christmas in 2010 a whole new experience. “It’s really difficult to be in the offshore rigs where work is nonstop,” he says. “Christmas and New Year holidays are split by two relieving offshore doctors. One can get the Christmas holiday and the other, the New Year. Unfortunately that year I had to work for both holidays. I spent my Christmas on my rig and on the 28th of December, had to jump-ship to another rig to spend New Year there.”


He adds that the only way he coped with the loneliness of spending the holidays without his family was to keep the communication lines open. “Lucky enough, social networking is already available to keep myself in the loop with what’s happening at home,” he says. “Somehow, I’m updated online but the physical presence is different. Still, I was with my family in spirit.” Aside from his family, he misses preparing for Christmas in the Philippines. When decorations are already put up by September, he starts experimenting new recipes for the holidays. “I crave the native food, the fun, and the booze,” he says.


Unlike in the Philippines where the celebration starts as early as September and where Noche Buena hails the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas at work offshore is just another regular day. The celebration starts during lunchtime on Christmas Day. No alcoholic drinks; no lively Christmas program or anything like that. There’s plenty of food, though, and kababayans share jokes and eat together.


“It’s a real sacrifice to work overseas,” he says. “The loneliness that I feel especially during the holidays often overwhelms me. There really is no place like home.”