Celebrating Christmas is a universally cherished holiday with diverse customs and traditions around the world. In the Philippines, Christmas is more than just a season; it’s a grand fiesta that starts as early as September and continues well into January. The Filipino people have a unique and heartwarming way of celebrating this festive occasion, blending a rich mix of religious, cultural, and familial traditions.
1. Simbang Gabi
Celebrating Christmas season in the Philippines officially kicks off with “Simbang Gabi” or “Misa de Gallo” on December 16th. This nine-day novena of dawn masses is a deeply religious tradition. It commemorates the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and is meant to show devotion and gratitude to God. After each mass, people enjoy traditional Filipino treats like bibingka (rice cake) and puto bumbong (purple rice cake).
The Philippines is known for its colorful and intricate Christmas lanterns called “parol.” These star-shaped lanterns symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and are displayed both in homes and along streets. Many communities even hold parol-making contests, showcasing the artistic talents of Filipinos.
3. Noche Buena
Christmas Eve, or “Noche Buena,” is one of the most anticipated parts of the Filipino Christmas celebration. Families gather around a sumptuous feast that typically includes lechon (roast pig), ham, queso de bola (cheese), and an array of kakanin (rice cakes). It’s a time for loved ones to bond and share blessings.
One of the most cherished Filipino traditions is “Aguinaldo” or gift-giving. Families exchange gifts as a way of showing appreciation and love for one another. It’s common to hear the phrase “Monito-Monita,” referring to the practice of secret Santa, where individuals draw names and give gifts anonymously.
5. Carol Singing
Filipinos love to sing, and Christmas caroling is a favorite pastime. Groups of carolers go from house to house, serenading neighbors with joyful Christmas songs. They are often rewarded with coins or treats for their musical efforts.
The Belén, a nativity scene, is an important decoration in Filipino homes. It’s a reminder of the birth of Jesus and serves as a focal point for family prayers. Some Beléns are highly detailed, while others are simple, made by hand with materials like bamboo and papel de hapon (Japanese paper).
7. Malls and Parks Decorations
Shopping malls and parks in the Philippines go all out with Christmas decorations. Giant Christmas trees, dazzling lights, and festive displays transform these places into enchanting wonderlands. Families often visit these malls and parks to soak in the holiday spirit.
Filipinos have a special way of celebrating Christmas that combines religious devotion with a strong sense of community and family. It’s a season of love, joy, and togetherness, where the warmth of the Filipino spirit shines brightly. The colorful parols, the delicious Noche Buena feasts, and the melodious carolers all contribute to making Christmas in the Philippines a truly magical and unforgettable experience.