No country celebrates Christmas the way Filipinos do. Pinoys, wherever they may be in the world, believe that the Philippines has the most Christmas spirit and here are nine reasons to prove it:
The Christmas Parol, Photo by Michale Swan
As a predominantly Catholic nation, the Philippines celebrates the longest Christmas season in the world. While officially observed at the start of the Simbang Gabi, a 9-day series of masses beginning on December 16, Filipinos would rather start way earlier.
Beginning as early as September, Christmas hymns can be heard playing on local radio stations and news programs start their countdown. The holidays last until either the Epiphany on January 6 or the Feast of the Black Nazarene on January 9.
As an annual tradition in workplaces nationwide, offices organize Christmas parties typically around the second week of December. The party usually features parlor games, group production numbers, and the local version of Kris Kringle called include Monito/Monita. Sometimes the company pays for the food, but employees would normally be happy to pool in their contributions.
Some locales or family groups organize their own reunions or street parties to celebrate the Yuletide season.
Filipinos love to decorate during the Christmas season. Many families usually start adorning their homes with Christmas lights and lanterns as early as October. Other decorations found inside the Filipino home include Santa Claus figurines, Christmas trees, snowmen, and other figures of Western Christmas. The most popular are the lanterns called “parol,” which represent the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Magi of the bible to the location of the baby Jesus’ birthplace.
Carrying homemade musical instruments, small groups of Filipino children go around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols from house to house as early as November up until the week before Christmas. Homeowners are expected to reward the singers with coins.
Simbang Gabi (Night Mass)
Catholic and Aglipayan Filipinos flock to local chapels and churches, usually at dawn, to attend the daily Mass from December 16-24. Other independent churches have adopted the practice of having pre-Christmas dawn services as well. The practice is meant to highlight the anticipation for Christ’s birth. Many believe that God grants the special wish of a devotee that hears all nine Masses. To make the tradition even more special, special dishes such as the bibingka (rice cakes) and puto bumbong (steamed glutinous rice) are served for those attending the Masses.
Noche Buena Feast
Filipinos celebrate Christmas Eve with the entire family dining together on the traditional Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) feast at around midnight.
Traditionally found on the midnight dinner table are Noche Buena staples such as the “queso de bola” (a ball of edam cheese), spaghetti, fruit salad, bread, rice, chicken and Christmas ham. It is usually after the Noche Buena meal when family members would open Christmas presents.
Filipino children would visit nearby relatives to pay respects to the senior members of the family, usually in the form of “Págmamáno”. As a custom, a child takes the back of an elder’s hand and presses it against the forehead.
In response to the gesture, the elder sometimes offers a blessing or a present (usually in the form of money inside an envelope). Aside from elder relatives, Godparents are also socially obligated to give money or gifts to their godchildren.
New Years Eve
The holiday festivities extend to December 31 when Filipino families gather for another midnight feast similar to Noche Buena in anticipation of the coming new year. Called the Media Noche, the meal symbolizes the family’s hopes to have a prosperous year to come. In the belief of driving away evil spirits, Filipinos make noise at the stroke of midnight by using firecrackers, horns, and loud music.
Photo by Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ
Depending on beliefs/religion, Filipinos also commemorate traditional celebrations such as the Three Kings’ Day (January 6), Feast of the Black Nazarene (January 9) and the Feast of the Santo Niño (the third Sunday of January) which usually involve a feast or a parade.