1. The Christmas season starts in September
There’s absolutely no other country in the world that celebrates Christmas longer than the Philippines. As matter of fact, you’ll feel the spirit of Christmas in the Philippines, as early as the 1st day of September. Once the “ber” months set in, Pinoys will begin adorning their establishments, houses and streets with eye-catching light displays, wondrous decorations and gigantic Christmas trees. What’s more, you’ll start hearing timeless Jose Marie Chan Christmas classics as well as Yuletide carols in shopping malls and on the radio.
2. Completing the Simbang Gabi is nearly in every Juan’s bucket list
The Misa de Gallo, or also known as Simbang Gabi, is a tradition that epitomizes how Christmastime has become Filipinized. Known as one of the most common Christmas traditions in the country, the Simbang Gabi originated in the early Spanish colonial period as a practical compromise for Pinoy farmers who began working before sunrise, to avoid the scorching noonday heat in the fields. Ultimately, this cherished custom became a distinct feature of our culture, and a symbol of our spiritual devotion.
Practiced Aglipayans and Roman Catholics, the Simbang Gabi is a 9-day series of masses to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and in anticipation of Xmas. These masses are held every day, from December 16 to Christmas Eve, and occur at different times.
Aside from showing their devotion, a lot of Pinoys also participate in these masses in hopes of having a granted wish. According to Filipino traditions, any Juan who completes all nine masses will have one of his or her wishes granted. Even those who aren’t very religious all of a sudden become avid churchgoers at this time of the year.
Photo credit: Flickr/Simbang Gabi/Shubert Ciencia/CC-BY
3. Post Simbang Gabi native delicacies
Food portrays a major role in every Filipino occasion, and Xmas is no exception. After attending a Simbang Gabi, Pinoys would tickle their sweet tooth and taste buds with luscious servings of Bibingka and Puto Bumbong. Then, these delicious delicacies would be washed down with a cup of salabat (ginger tea), or a thick and hot Spanish-style chocolate drink.
Photo credit: Flickr/Bibingka/George Parrilla/CC-BY
4. Christmas lanterns
Christmas lanterns, or referred as “parols” in Filipino lingo, wonderfully light up the streets, homes and malls in the Philippines, during the Yuletide season. Created by an artisan in 1928, these lanterns were originally designed to help villagers find their way to chapels and churches to pray. Today, these lanterns are used as embellishments to further enhance the Christmas spirit.
5. Christmas caroling
The Philippines, as with most countries, joyfully celebrates Christmas with songs and praises. A few weeks prior to Christmas day, groups of kids and adults roam around the streets visiting houses and singing their hearts out with the help of their extraordinary handmade instruments, such as drums made from used milk cans and tambourines made up of aluminum bottle tops (tansan). And after the homeowners reward the carolers with money, they would sing or chant their words of thanks. Nowadays, caroling has become a fund-raising activity by private organizations and Socio-economic groups.
The Belen, similar to the Nativity Scene in many western nations, is a tableau that depicts the Holy Family at the birth of Jesus. Just like the Parol, the Belen is an iconic Filipino decoration that’s often showcased in many parks, offices, homes and establishments. For the most part, the Belens are displayed until the Feast of Epiphany, which marks the end of the Xmas season in the Philippines.
7. Noche Buena is usually the highlight of the Yuletide season
The Noche Buena is truly one of the most anticipated events for Filipinos during Christmastime. Celebrated on Christmas Eve or after the midnight mass, the Noche Buena is a grand family dinner and a hearty feast full of tasty traditional Filipino holiday staples, such as the lechon, pancit malabon, sweetened ham, lumpiang ubod, queso de bola, and a whole lot more. A mark of close family ties, the Noche Buena has been long a favorite family tradition in the Philippines.
It’s a common tradition for Pinoys to visit their relatives during Xmas day. Together with the other family members, kids would often wear their latest or finest clothes, and visit their elder relatives as well as godparents to pay their respect. During the visit, children would practice the old-age tradition “mano”, where one’s forehead is touched by the hand of the elder. For the most part, children are rewarded and presented with gifts like toys, candies or money by their relatives or godparents. In Filipino culture, these presents are called as “Aguinaldo”.
Speaking of gifts, no school, house or office Christmas party is complete without the Monito-Monita. A Filipino’s adaptation of Kris Kringle, Monito-Monita is a form of exchanging gifts where every participant has his or her own anonymous gift giver or shall we say “Secret Santa”. The identities of both the receiver and giver are later on, revealed during the office or class Christmas party.
10. Christmas extends until January
Did we mention that the Philippines has longest Christmas season in the world? The Yuletide season, in other countries, typically ends on the 25th of December or on New Year’s Day. But in the Philippines, the Christmas season extends until January, specifically during the Three Kings, or the Feast of Epiphany – a religious event that marks end of Christmas season in the Philippines. Celebrated with a mass, Feast of Epiphany is usually the time when Christmas decorations like the Belen and Parol are stowed away.