Balikbayan boxes sent to the Philippines-1608964051740
Balikbayan boxes being sent to the Philippines. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this was the first time Filipino expat Yeszi Cipriano, 27, did not spend Christmas with her family in the Philippines. This was also the first time that she prepared a balikbayan box to send her gifts to her loved ones.

A balikbayan box is one of the most recognisable symbols of Filipino diaspora. Literally, the translation of balikbayan box is ‘repatriation box’, a corrugated carton containing items overseas Filipinos send back home. Balikbayan boxes come in different sizes and they contain a sundry of items — from chocolates to non-perishable food, toys, gadgets, books, clothes, perfume, toiletries and other household items that the sender thinks his/her family, relatives and friends would need back home.

But a balikbayan box is more than just a box shipped by freight forwarders. For Yeszi and the millions of Filipinos across the world, it is a symbol of their connection with their loved ones, especially during the holidays. Being away from home and missing the warmth and joy of spending the holiday with their family and friends, a balikbayan box becomes a tangible manifestation of bringing them together. A balikbayan box is also an expression of the Filipino practice of gift-giving.

Filipino expat Yeszi Cipriano packs a balikbayan box for her loved ones back home. Image Credit: Supplied

Yeszi said she prepared her balikbayan box two months ago and it arrived before Christmas. She sent chocolates, books and toys to her nephews and nieces and special gifts to her siblings and mother.

A family affair

Like in every family who has a member working overseas, the opening of the balikbayan box Yeszi sent to her home in Bicol, became a family affair. Everyone gathered around the box and distributed items that were intended and properly labelled for each of them. “It (opening of the balikbayan box) was a joyous occasion. I may have been away from them this Christmas but I felt the happiness as they received the gifts I carefully prepared and packed in that balikbayan box,” Yeszi told Gulf News.

Covid amplified the ‘padala’ culture

Allan Michael Bautista

Allan Michael Bautista, chairman of the Philippine Business Council League of Freight Forwarders in the UAE and senior marketing manager at LBC Express, said the culture of ‘padala’ or sending of balikbayan boxes has increased this holiday season despite the pandemic. “We witnessed how overseas Filipinos rushed to send essentials to their families during the lockdown and then shortly after, purchased and sent gadgets for online classes in the Philippines. They also rushed to pack and send balikbayan boxes, full of gifts, for their families weeks before Christmas,” he told Gulf News.

Hopes and dreams in every balikbayan box

Bautista noted the freight forwarding industry dedicated to Filipinos in the UAE has seen a 60 per cent surge in the volume of boxes Filipinos sent home. He noted: “The balikbayan box continues to be a symbol of the hope, dream and aspiration of every Filipino family and the expatriate’s commitment to provide their loved ones with a better life.”

“A balikbayan box does not only contain items sent by overseas Filipinos, it is also a symbol of their connection with families and friends back home. It is also a promise and commitment to connect with them during these trying times,” Bautista added.