Let’s forget about the Philippine’s festivals in the meantime and let me tell you how, we, Filipinos celebrate the yuletide season.
Composed of more than 80% Catholics, Christmas is one of the most important and awaited celebrations in the Philippines. More than just a season of giving, Filipinos have a very interesting tradition when it comes to Christ’s nativity.
The “Ber” Months
When the calendar hits September, the start of what we call the “-ber” months, that’s a cue for us to start saving money and plan our holidays. Believe it or not, you will be hearing Christmas songs playing in some malls or shops or even the local radio stations! There was a meme about a famous local singer whom you’ll hear his Christmas songs over and over again, everywhere.
Early Christmas Decorations
Well, this depends on every household. I do remember way back when I was younger, we decorate our house bit by bit starting November after the All Soul’s day. You will see some fairy lights and Christmas lanterns being sold as early as September. There’s an area near my place that starts selling their beautiful and very colorful Christmas lanterns and decorations as early as that month. Though there’s an advantage when buying decorations early –they are not expensive yet!
Parol (Filipino Christmas Lantern)
Parol is an ornament made by Filipinos, specifically for Christmas. From the Spanish word farol, and just like Mexico’s piñata, Philippine’s parol was originally made of bamboo sticks, paper and oil lamps for it to gleam at night. But of course, in our technology today, we have electricity to use for the lantern to illuminate at night . There are also other materials that can be used like plastics and foils. What’s more amazing is that there are Filipinos using recyclable materials like plastic bottles and cups, tin cans, plastics straws, and utensils!
Christmas Parties Everywhere
As an adult, Christmas is an expensive season, that’s why you’ll hear some of them moan when they hear the term. However, it is also something exciting to wait for every year. Schools and companies organize Christmas parties and attendees have to perform a program to showcase their talents. Sometimes, even those who don’t like performing (and would say they don’t have talents) will not get away from it; everyone must participate! But the prizes for raffle draws and games are much awaited, especially if the company is too generous to give away a massive flat screen TV! Who wouldn’t want that?!
As a kid, I love attending our school’s Christmas parties every year. Aside from wearing our brand-new outfits and party in our school (no classes! Yey!), we also have our exchange gifts! And of course, parlor games will always be at every Christmas party where you can win prizes, too!
Thirteenth Month Pay
Now, this is the much-awaited benefit of an employee in the Philippines! It is under a law of our country, which is a form of monetary employment benefit received by workers within a company. It is computed according to the number of months within a year the employee has provided his or her service to their company.
Another thing that every kid loves during this season, is the Christmas caroling. A group of kids, with their homemade and recyclable musical instruments (or bought), will go to different houses in the neighborhood and sing Christmas carols. Later in return, the people living there should give them some coins, or if they are generous, will give a bigger amount of money. Way back then, kids can only start the “karoling” when December 16th comes until the Christmas Eve. And of course, adults can do that too, usually if they have fundraising events.
Bigingka and Puto Bumbong
If the UK has mince pies for Christmas, the Philippines has bibingka and puto bumbong! They are basically rice cakes, made of glutinous rice. Bibingka is yellow, softer and a bit like sponge cake, while puto bumbong is purple, sticky and cylindrical. Both are cooked using charcoals and specialized potteries and cooking materials. They are best served with shredded coconut meat on a banana leaf and paired with hot tea. You will usually find small stalls (they cook it fresh) near the church every Simbang Gabi (Night Mass).
Simbang Gabi (Night Mass)
Also known as Misa de Gallo, is a Catholic tradition every Christmas where devotees attend masses from the 16th of December until the Christmas Eve.
Misa de Gallo is a Spanish term for Rooster’s mass. During the Spanish era, farmers had to work all day and had to attend novenas in the evenings, but due to tiring job in the field, the priests decided to change the mass schedule to early mornings. During the dawns, before the farmers had to go to their work; the time where they’ll hear the roosters crowing, hence, it was called the Rooster’s Mass.
There’s also a belief that if you completed the 9-day mass, you can make a wish, and it will be granted!
In Christmas Eve, after hearing the last mass of Misa de Gallo, the family gathers around and share the food prepared for the feast of the nativity of Jesus Christ. Another tradition influenced by the Spanish, it is a family dinner where every member of the family will meet in one’s place, catch up and exchange gifts. For kids, it is a good chance to stay up late until midnight!
It is also the time when mothers or the ladies of the house are busy preparing dishes for the family. A Noche Buena in a Filipino table is usually filled with different dishes.
In Spanish, Noche Buena means holy night, but when you hear those words in the Philippines, they are referring to the Christmas Eve meal.
I’m not referring to one of the Philippine’s historical war hero here! Aguinaldo is also known as Filipino Christmas presents for kids. It could be a form of gift like toys, but most of the time, it is monetary.
Every 25th of December, kids will visit their godparents, grandparents and other relatives. Mano or Pagmamano is a Filipino gesture all the time to respect the elders (not only Christmas); it is taught to kids at a very early age. Kids are given the aguinaldo after they do the gesture. And of course, the more the aguinaldo, the happier the kids — and the parents!
Just a note, gift giving in the Philippines happens every Noche Buena and we do open it together after exchanging gifts. Though we believe in Santa Claus, and some also do that kind of Christmas tradition, however, religiously, we believe that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ. So, at a young age, we know that gifts will really come from our Ninongs and Ninangs (godparents).
Philippine’s Christmas tradition might sound a bit crazy and weird to other nationalities, however, just like in any parts of the world, it is simply a season of love and sharing. A time when families gather and just enjoy being together on this special day. With or without gifts, with or without Noche Buena meal, what’s important is to be with our loved ones and celebrate the memory of Jesus Christ’s nativity.
To everyone, may you have a merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to come!
Disclamer: Some of the photos here are grabbed from Google.