The most joyous occasion in the Philippines is a few days ahead. Christmas, and it is always a great joy for every Filipino families with members living or working abroad to receive a balikbayan box during this season.
A Balikbayan Box, is a care package sent by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) back to their families in the Philippines. A balikbayan box typically contains a hodgepodge of things we call pasalubong, ranging from consumables, to apparel and beauty products, to small gadgets and some cash carefully inserted in other items – hoping against hope that they won’t be found by people other than the recipients. While the cash and other attractive items often disappear, thanks to the entrepreneurial customs officers who help themselves to the content of these balikbayan boxes, some items eventually find their way to the waiting families. Yey!
The balikbayan box usually contains different kinds of imported gifts because we, Filipinos are fond of imported items after all. Remember that Nivea joke?
As an OFW, we usually buy items whenever we see them on reduced price and consolidate them for our love ones. From Lulu to Carrefour, name it. Almost every week there are sale in those leading hyper markets.
We made a research and found these common items inside the balikbayan box.
- Candies and chocolates. Imported chocolates and candies are almost always included in a balikbayan box. There are packs of assorted chocolates made by famous makers in the United States, Switzerland and Germany. There are also gummy bears, candy canes and other goodies placed in plastic packs each weighing at least one pound.
- Imported food. Many balikbayan boxes also contain imported food and snacks like biscuits, cookies, coffee bags, teas, cereals and other goodies that cannot be found in the Philippines. People like to compare the usual food that foreigners eat abroad with their own local fare.
- Shoes. Family members and friends generally ask for new pairs of shoes and these are sent usually without the original boxes to save space and cram inside the gift box. Running shoes, basketball shoes, casual shoes and even aqua shoes are sent by overseas Filipino workers for their loved ones back home.
- Perfumes. In some countries, perfumes and colognes are a lot cheaper and come in packages that include bath scents and oils. These are favorite gift items among Filipinos. Particularly, well-known brands are highly preferred by receivers. They usually boast about their new scent come New Year.
- Clothes. Together with shoes, balikbayan boxes also contain a lot of clothes, usually branded ones. These generally feature brands that are not available in the provinces or may be too expensive to purchase locally. Jeans, coats and accessories are also common items sent back home.
- Cosmetics. For women, they order lipstick, makeup and other cosmetic products. Balikbayan boxes usually contain cosmetic items made by the top makers in the world. There are also bath soaps, body wash products, creams and facial cleansers included. These are small in size so senders like to get more to keep the box full.
- Alcohol. Wines and whiskies from abroad are particularly common contents of a balikbayan box. Men like to hand these out as gifts to their friends and in-laws. Some wines are also good and recommended for people with high cholesterol and blood pressure so these are given as presents for the old folks.
- Books and DVDs. Filipinos like to collect books and movies so they ask relatives to bring them DVDs that they can watch again and again. Children and teenagers also like to request for book compilations or a series of famous titles by world-renowned authors.
- Stuffed toys and other games for kids. Because more than the sight of chocolates and biscuits, only stuffed toys and games can bring out the biggest smiles on children’s faces. So congratulations balikbayan Mama and Papa, you’ve just earned 10,000 ganda and pogi points from your kids back home!
- Vitamins and other health supplements. Usually for the parents and other older members of the family back home. Given the costly price of vitamins and supplements in the country, not to mention hospitalisation, sending over several months’ worth of vitamin supply is a great idea. After all, prevention trumps cure anytime.
Now you’re probably saying to yourself: But most of these items can now be bought locally, right? Why even bother sending a balikbayan box at the risk of it being pilfered anyway? Well, Pinoys are a highly sentimental bunch. Most of what we do, we do out of love and a deeper sense of care. So when you think about it, the balikbayan box represents more than just the items inside. It represents blood, sweat and tears of every single Filipino working and living abroad, fighting homesickness, melancholy and many forms of abuse, just to be able to save enough money to provide a better future for their families back home – and yes, occasionally send balikbayan boxes. Of course, there are measures in place to regulate what goes in – and how much or how many of it – and the OFWs should likewise abide by these rules to avoid fines and other inconveniences.