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10 Joyful Ways to Celebrate Philippine Christmas

Updated on September 25, 2012
Simbang Gabi or Dawn Mass in a Philippine Catholic Church
Simbang Gabi or Dawn Mass in a Philippine Catholic Church | Source
Parol or Philippine Christmas Star Lantern
Parol or Philippine Christmas Star Lantern | Source

Christmas is the most anticipated holiday in the Philippines, a largely Catholic nation with avid religious beliefs.

It is said that the Philippines has the longest Christmas celebration in the whole world, officially starting on December 16 and ending on the first Sunday of January the succeeding year.

On December 16, Filipinos attend the nine-day dawn Catholic mass that culminates on Christmas Eve.

On the first Sunday of January, Filipinos commemorate the Epiphany, the time when the three wise men followed the stars to reach the manger where Jesus Christ was born.

Still, the celebration of Christmas kick in as early as the first BER month, September, when Christmas tunes would be heard and some Christmas trees and Filipino Christmas lanterns parol would be hung.

Largely because of the length of time for the preparation for Christmas, there are so many ways to celebrate the Christmas season in the Philippines. Below are just 10 of them.

1. Make and Hang Parol – Philippine Christmas Lantern

Traditionally, we Filipinos hang Christmas star lanterns called parol outside of our homes and all kinds of establishments during the Christmas season.

This star is supposed to symbolize the star that guided the three Biblical kings Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar who searched for and reached Jesus Christ’s birthplace.

Parol is conventionally made with thin strips of bamboo and colored papers.

Because of the ingenuity of many Filipinos, the modern-day parol is now made of tens to hundreds of lights blinking in rhythmic patterns.

Some of them are even so huge that they should be hauled in big trucks.

2. Deck the Christmas Tree

Filipino Christmas is never complete without the Christmas tree, which Filipino families could hardly wait to decorate by themselves.

Most Filipino Christmas trees are commercially bought from department stores, where they are sold in green, white, and gold colors.

These trees are adorned with colorful balls, lights, and tinsels that come in various shades and sizes.

The tree tops are decorated with either angels or stars.

Below the Christmas trees, Filipinos would put their gifts for their loved ones.

Some would also place the Belen , small figurines that represent the Holy Family, the three Biblical wise kings, the angels, and the visitors who all gathered around the manger in Bethlehem when Jesus Christ was born.

3. Eat Puto Bumbong and Bibingka, Drink Tsokolate and Salabat

The Philippines, a tropical country, tend to be a little cooler during the Christmas season.

At this time of the year, we Filipinos would often drink hot chocolate or tsokolate and warm ginger tea or salabat to warm our tummies.

We’d also eat log-shaped sticky rice cake called puto bumbong that has its signature purple color and bibingka that is round and fluffy and especially tasty.

All these foods are traditionally eaten before and during the yuletide season in the country and can be easily bought outside Catholic churches during dawn and midnight masses.

4. Reward Carolers or Cumbancheros

Cumbancheros or revelers in the Philippines often refer to carolers, people – mostly kids – who go from house to house and sing Christmas songs in exchange for some coins or bills.

Most of these kids use improvised musical instruments like tambourines made with flattened softdrink caps and wire.

They also use makeshift drums made of spare cans with tops covered with plastic.

On Christmas day, most cumbancheros would just go from house to house to ask for favors without singing and simply greeting “Namamasko po!”

5. Watch the Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando

In the town of San Fernando, province of Pampanga in Central Luzon, Philippines, towns compete with one another in making the largest, most eye-catching, and most beautiful parol.

The towns work on their parols almost year-round, with the designs and the rhythmic patterns of the blinking of parol lights strictly kept under wraps.

Thousands of tourists go to San Fernando to watch this competition as the parols are really works of art – huge and imaginative.

6. Go to Simbang Gabi - Dawn Masses

Starting December 16 up until December 24 each year, most Filipinos wake up in the wee hours of the morning to go to Catholic churches for the dawn mass or Simbang Gabi that starts as early as 3 a.m.

Simbang Gabi culminates in Misa de Gallo, the dawn mass for December 24.

It has been a centuries-old belief among Filipinos that completing the nine-day novena would make prayers for Mama Mary and Jesus Christ come true.

Filipinos’ anticipation for Christmas day really builds up at the start of Simbang Gabi.

At around this time, many Christmas parties in schools and offices are held across the country.

7. Watch Panuluyan

In the town squares in the Philippines, townspeople gather to reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging before Mary gives birth in a dramatic ritual called Panuluyan .

People hold a procession that winds through various towns and that ultimately ends in front of the town church.

Two of these people enact the roles of Mary who is heavy with Jesus Christ and Joseph.

8. Attend Misa de Aguinaldo or the Midnight Mass

To ring in the Christmas day, Filipinos attend Misa de Aguinaldo or midnight mass on the night of December 24.

Misa de Aguinaldo usually starts at 10 p.m. and ends shortly before 12 midnight.

Attending this mass is a way for many Filipinos to welcome Christmas day in churches where they expect to receive blessings.

9. Eat Noche Buena

Eating Noche Buena is a night-long affair among family members from midnight of December 24 until the early hours of December 25.

It is perhaps the highlight of Christmas day.

At this time, families gather around the dining table and share customary Christmas dishes like hamon de bola, queso de bola, crema de fruta, leche flan, buko salad, lechon and Filipino-style spaghetti.

Gifts for close family members are given.

Kids also open their presents from Santa Claus.

10. Spend Time with Family

Christmas in the Philippines is all about spending quality time with family members.

This tradition is rooted in the scene in Bethlehem, where the Holy Family was said to be together.

Spending time with family means eating with them, giving them presents, visiting other relatives and friends together, and going out as a group.

Christmas is so family-oriented in the Philippines that Filipinos from overseas or in other cities go back to their hometowns for this special event just to be with their relatives.

Copyright © 2011 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

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