Christmas in the Philippines is a unique and enchanting experience that combines religious devotion, cultural heritage, and festive customs. From the early start of the holiday season in September to the grand feast of Noche Buena on Christmas Eve, the Philippines is a country where Christmas traditions are deeply ingrained in the national identity. In this article, we will explore the rich tapestry of Christmas Traditions in the Philippines, highlighting the customs and practices that make this season truly special.
Christmas in September: A Prolonged Celebration
Filipinos fondly refer to the months ending in “ber” – September, October, November, and December – as the ‘Ber’ months. It’s a cultural and colloquial way of acknowledging the commencement of the Christmas season. These months are marked by an incredible surge of holiday spirit, and it’s during this period that the nation begins to transform into a dazzling showcase of lights, decorations, and merriment.
Nativity Scenes and Belen
Setting up nativity scenes, locally known as “Belen,” is a cherished Christmas tradition in the Philippines. These intricate displays depict the birth of Jesus in a humble manger, often featuring figurines of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Wise Men, and, of course, the newborn Jesus. Families take great care in creating their Belen displays, and they can be found in homes, churches, and public areas, serving as a visual reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.
Parols: Starry Symbols of Christmas
Parols, star-shaped lanterns, are another integral part of the Christmas decorations in the Philippines. These beautifully crafted lanterns, traditionally made of bamboo and colorful paper, symbolize the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Wise Men to the birthplace of Jesus. Parols come in various sizes and designs, from small handheld versions to enormous ones that adorn streets and buildings. The crafting and display of Parols are a creative and community-building activity during the Christmas season.
Manito-Manita: Secret Santa in Filipino Style
The tradition of “Manito-Manita” is a unique take on the Secret Santa gift exchange. Friends, family members, and coworkers draw names from a hat to become each other’s “Manito” or “Manita.” The twist is that participants exchange gifts secretly over a span of several weeks, with the grand reveal often taking place during the annual Christmas party. This tradition adds an element of suspense and fun to gift-giving.
Ang Pao: The Red Envelope of Good Luck
In the Philippines, the custom of giving “ang pao,” red envelopes containing money, is not just limited to the Chinese New Year. This tradition has also been adopted during Christmas. These envelopes are given to children, relatives, employees, and even carolers as a symbol of good luck and blessings during the holiday season. It’s a gesture of generosity and well-wishing, much like the spirit of Christmas itself.
Coming Home for Christmas
Christmas is a time when Filipinos scattered around the world make every effort to come home to the Philippines. This homecoming tradition is deeply rooted in the country’s culture, emphasizing the importance of family bonds and togetherness. Many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) save up and plan their return during the holiday season to spend Christmas with their loved ones.
Caroling: Spreading Joy Through Music
Caroling is a beloved Christmas Tradition in the Philippines that involves groups of children and adults visiting homes, singing Christmas carols, and spreading holiday cheer. While it’s a joyful experience for carolers, it’s also an opportunity to collect donations or gifts from the generous homeowners. Popular carols include “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit,” “Pasko Na Naman,” and “Jingle Bells.”
Simbang Gabi & Misa de Gallo:
One of the most cherished traditions is Simbang Gabi, a series of nine dawn masses commencing on December 16 and culminating on the Christmas Eve. This religious custom allows devotees to show their commitment to their faith by attending masses in the early hours of the morning. Misa de Gallo, or the midnight mass, on Christmas Eve, marks the birth of Jesus Christ and is a pivotal moment for Filipinos during the Christmas season.
Noche Buena: The Grand Christmas Eve Feast
Noche Buena is the grand Christmas Eve feast, and it’s a highlight of the Filipino Christmas celebrations. Families come together to prepare a lavish spread of traditional Filipino dishes, such as lechon (roast pig), pancit (noodles), hamon (ham), queso de bola (edam cheese), and an array of kakanin (rice cakes). Delicacies like bibingka (rice cake) and puto bumbong (purple rice cake) are also enjoyed during this special meal.
Feast of the Three Kings: Epiphany Celebrations
The Christmas festivities in the Philippines don’t end on Christmas Day. The celebration extends until the Feast of the Three Kings, also known as Epiphany, celebrated on January 6. This feast commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men to the infant Jesus. In various regions of the Philippines, you can witness vibrant parades, reenactments, and cultural activities that add an extra layer of festivity to the holiday season.
A Melodic Atmosphere Everywhere
One notable phenomenon during the Filipino Christmas season is the resurgence of classic Christmas songs by iconic artists such as Jose Mari Chan and Mariah Carey. Their timeless melodies re-emerge in radio playlists, malls, and various public spaces, becoming a defining part of the auditory backdrop during the holiday season.
Christmas Day: A Grand Family Affair
Christmas Day is a momentous Christmas Tradition in the Philippines, and it is primarily a family affair. Families come together to celebrate, exchange gifts, and bond over a sumptuous feast. It’s a time for creating lasting memories, sharing laughter, and expressing love and gratitude.
Indulging in Christmas Food: Bibingka and Puto Bumbong
Traditional Filipino Christmas food plays a significant role in the celebrations. Bibingka, a delicious rice cake made with coconut milk and salted duck eggs, is a favorite delicacy during the holiday season. Puto bumbong, another popular treat, is made from purple glutinous rice and steamed in bamboo tubes, typically enjoyed after the Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo Masses.
Aguinaldo or Pamasko: Gifts of Generosity
Another heartwarming Christmas tradition in the Philippines is the exchange of “Aguinaldo” or “Pamasko.” These are monetary gifts given to children, relatives, employees, and those in need as a symbol of generosity and blessings during the holiday season. The act of giving Aguinaldo reflects the spirit of sharing and goodwill that defines Christmas.
Conclusion: A Uniquely Filipino Celebration
In the Philippines, Christmas is not just a day on the calendar; it’s a significant season filled with unique and heartfelt traditions that bring people closer, strengthen family ties, and foster a sense of community. The combination of religious practices, cultural heritage, and the warmth of Filipino hospitality makes the Christmas season in the Philippines an experience unlike any other. The joy, love, and togetherness that permeate every tradition are what truly make Christmas in the Philippines a remarkable and unforgettable celebration.