Christmas Traditions in the Philippines: A Festive Tapestry of Faith and Family

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.

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September 01 marks the beginning of “Ber” Months’

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.

Christmas Traditions in the Philippines: A Festive Tapestry of Faith and Family
Nativity Scene or “Belen”

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.

Christmas Traditions in the Philippines: A Festive Tapestry of Faith and Family
Festival of Lights at Ayala Triangle Gardens

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.

Christmas Traditions in the Philippines: A Festive Tapestry of Faith and Family

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.

Christmas Traditions in the Philippines: A Festive Tapestry of Faith and Family

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.

Christmas Traditions in the Philippines: A Festive Tapestry of Faith and Family

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.”

Christmas Traditions in the Philippines: A Festive Tapestry of Faith and Family

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.

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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.

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Family Reunion

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.

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Puto Bumbong & Bibingka

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.

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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.

Polly Amora

Polly Amora is the señorita behind GoldenIslandSenorita.Net. A corporate warrior by day, and a perpetual explorer by heart. She is a lifelong learner who is very outgoing, speaks four languages, loud & outspoken, and loves to have adventures in the mountains, on the beach, and in the city. You can throw her anywhere, and she'll handle it like a pro. Ice cream and bourbon are two of her weaknesses.

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