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Sep 29th
Home Sections MiscellaNEWS Christmas in the Philippines
Christmas in the Philippines PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 12 December 2008 04:32

If you’re still undecided where to spend Christmas, consider the Philippines. While there is no doubt that over the centuries, Christmas has become an international holiday celebrated by both Christian and non-Christian countries alike, there is none that can compare to Christmas in the Philippines.  But what sets it apart from other yuletide celebrations the world over?


For a country that prides itself on being the only Christian nation in Asia, the Philippines has the record of having the longest yuletide festivities that stretch for over three weeks.

In this archipelago of over 7,107 islands, Christmas is celebrated with both religious fervor and merrymaking. Though over the years Christmas in the Philippines may have been heavily influenced by Western traditions, the people’s own traditions have withstood the changing times.  Even as commercialism brought about by new technologies has seeped into the culture and psyche of the nation, the religious significance of the event that happened in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago is as alive as ever in the hearts of the local population.  This what makes Christmas in the Philippines quite unique.

In this country of more-than 90-million, Christmas has its own magic that comes the minute the first “ber” month arrives. With a festive, fun-loving spirit that is uniquely Filipino, the countdown to Christmas day starts in September when the sounds of Christmas carols fill the air and a cheery atmosphere seems to envelop everyone.  Display of holiday cards, tree ornaments, and lights spring up in retail outlets, shopping malls and restaurants – especially in the cities – and even in jeepneys careening along the streets. Christmas bazaars offering every kind of merchandise imaginable become standard weekend destinations. This goes on with increasing fervor throughout the holiday season.

Star of the Season and the Symbols of Paskong Pinoy

Christmas in the Philippines, as in other countries, is marked by many symbols.  Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath, sending and exchanging Christmas cards and singing carols are traditions inherited from the culture of the West.  But the star of the season in the Philippines is the Christmas lantern or what is locally known as “parol.”

The “parol,” which signifies the star that guided the Three Wise Men to the manger in Bethlehem where Christ was born, is part of the country’s traditions that every Filipino could not seem to live without. Throughout the yuletide season, parols are hung in almost every Filipino home; they adorned malls, schools, lampposts, stores and offices in an explosion blinking, pulsating and revolving colors just as soon as the sun sets. Filipino parols used to come in simple star-shaped lanterns made of bamboo sticks and colored papers.  Over the years, however, they have metamorphosed into more complex designs and come in different sizes, shapes and colors.

Philippine Christmas or what we generally call “Paskong Pinoy” is not complete without music. Therefore, one way of celebrating the season is by the singing Christmas carols.  In most urban centers and in rural areas as well, carolers visit houses to sing Christmas carols – ranging from the classic “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” to the Filipinos’ very own “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” and “Pasko na Namang Muli.” Kids usually band together and sing carols from house to house in their neighborhoods. Some carolers –especially those who belong to civic organizations – raise funds for the less fortunate families through caroling, while others are doing it simply for the joy of singing.

Clearly a Western tradition, the Christmas tree is now very much part of Christmas in the Philippines. But since pine trees grow only in a few places in the country, fresh Christmas tree is very uncommon – if not impossible to find -- in a Filipino household during the holiday season.  However, always the innovative people that they are, Filipinos have created their unique and original Christmas trees using local and indigenous materials and have transformed this Christmas symbol into a more exquisite form of art. Giant, well-lighted and decorated trees are a sight to behold in the city parks, shopping malls, and office building facades.

And what is Christmas in the Philippines without Simbang Gabi? This Filipino Catholic tradition, also called Misa de Gallo, is a series of nine dawn masses that begins on December 16 and culminates on Christmas Eve. These masses are held at 4:00 a.m. and despite the balmy temperature draw a large portion of the population to their local churches.  After the masses, the young and old alike love to feast on hot chocolate, salabat (ginger tea), bibingka and puto-bumbong (varieties of Filipino rice cakes) to shake off the morning chill.

In some areas in the Philippines, barrios come alive with processions and parades – another perfect excuse for decking the whole town with lights and Christmas trimmings and dressing up in one’s best.  In the Tagalog provinces, Christmas celebration is highlighted by religious activities like the Panunuluyan, the biblical re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem, their search for lodging and the birth of Child Jesus in the manger.

A Season of Giving and Sharing

Christmas in the Philippines is a season of sharing. It is a time of gift-giving, a time for warm friendships. Most especially, Christmas in the Philippines is a time for families to be together.  Nowhere is this revered tradition more evident than during Christmas Eve when after attending the midnight mass families enjoy a Christmas feast called Noche Buena.

Christmas day in the Philippines is primarily a family affair. The day is usually spent visiting relatives and extended families – especially the elders – to pay one’s respects, with the endearing tradition of pagmamano or kissing the hands of the elders, who in return give their blessings.

Because Christmas is the most important celebration of the year in any Filipino family, people try to make the most of it. On Christmas day, every Filipino home – whether it be palatial or humble – will have something for everyone to come home to. Even in the poorest of homes the spirit of the season is alive as people try to spread a bit of Christmas spirit and cheer in their own way, usually by preparing food for relatives, friends and guests.

On New Year’s Eve, families once more gather for the traditional “Media Noche” or midnight meal, a feast that is also supposed to symbolize their hopes for a prosperous new year.  The coming of the New Year is greeted and welcomed in the country with loud noises and sounds of merrymaking – usually with the use of fireworks and firecrackers that lasts throughout the evening and all through the day.

The Feast of the Three Kings, also known as the Feast of the Epiphany, which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the New Year, is one more happy excuse for more gift-giving. However, it was not Santa Claus but the Three Kings from the East who came bearing gifts for the children. While Christmas is supposed to officially end by The Feast of the Three Kings, the strains of carols usually still hang in the air and yuletide decorations stay up just a little longer – like a happy memory that refuses to fade.

Yes…it’s a long celebration; it’s Christmas without end. That’s the way Pinoys like it. The combination of Filipino generosity and their naturally fun-loving spirit makes Christmas in the Philippines uniquely different—the family togetherness, the feasting, the gift-giving, the religious significance of the birth of Christ child – and gives it the true meaning and reason for the season. # # #

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Last Updated on Monday, 15 December 2008 05:11

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