Philippines Christmas spirit reborn as early as September


After expressing their gratitude for their meal and gathering through prayers, Filipino friends and family line up to take their share of what has been prepared. Conversations and warmth fill the festive atmosphere.

Angela Lim, Staff Reporter

In the Philippines, we’re known for having the longest Christmas season in the world. Decorating as soon as the -ber months roll around is not uncommon; villages, towns, and cities are adorned with exuberant lights and displays. Parols set everything aglow, as if the stars have fallen and come to join the celebration too. People are bustling from store to store as December 25th draws closer. News channels start counting down and playing festive songs from the radio (Don’t be surprised if you hear Jose Marie Chan’s “Christmas in Our Hearts” at least once every day).

Indeed, welcome to the Philippines, where the Christmas spirit is reborn as early as September, brimming with life all the way until January. We’re grateful to be enveloped in the 70-degree cold at night.

Aside from the Christmas traditions those in the United States may be used to, Filipinos practice their own customs as well.

As a predominantly Roman Catholic country (as a result of about 333 years of Spanish colonization), Filipinos typically have a very devout faith–and they show it in great lengths. Simbang Gabi is a Christmas tradition in the Philippines that literally means ‘night mass.’ Masses at every church are held each night from December 16 to December 24, leading up to the 25th. However, there are also masses that take place at dawn, as early as 4 to 6am, on the same days; the schedules of parishes may vary. On Christmas Eve, a special Misa de Gallo (‘Mass of the Rooster’) occurs either at midnight, a couple of hours before it, or in the early hours of Christmas day. After a mass, one can see vendors waiting outside larger churches, selling Filipino street food, snacks, produce, or small items to those leaving the parish. It’s this time of year when all the churches are completely packed.

Noche Buena (‘The Good Night’) is a grand feast that occurs right before Christmas day. As soon as the clock strikes midnight, or a little before, families would gather around their dining table filled with heaps of delicious food. Before digging in, they say their prayers, then start celebrating the occasion right away. Every household’s menu varies, but your standard selection would look something like this:
• Lechon (roasted whole pig), roast chicken, Christmas ham, Filipino-style pork barbecue
• Fish, clams, mussels, other seafood
• Soup or stew (can vary)
• Pancit Malabon (Filipino noodle dish filled with a variety of toppings), Filipino-style spaghetti, Carbonara
• Fruit salad, crema de fruta, bibingka, leche flan, chicken macaroni salad, buko pandan (all of which are popular Filipino desserts)
• Rice (a side dish that Filipinos eat with all their main meals of any day)
• Drinks (juice, wine, and more)
(People could pick a few from each category or, more or less, everything.)

It’s a widely held belief that Filipinos love to sing and are amazing at it; renowned as karaoke-singing machines, they’re especially louder during the holiday season. Families and friends—these days, children–would go from house to house and sing Christmas carols. In line with the season of giving, their small audiences can give them their appreciation, blessings, and small gifts and treats. After receiving these, young carolers would usually sing, “Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo (you’re all so kind), thank you!” in a tune familiar to all, then go onto the next house.

December is full of Christmas parties with family, friends, relatives, communities, coworkers, and classmates. Filipinos exchange plenty of gifts with each other. Like Secret Santa, participants pick a random name beforehand, go through their wish lists, and finally give their gifts to them at whichever gathering, revealing their identity then. However, sometimes, there are games wherein everyone would sit in a circle; a Secret Santa would describe whose name they got, and the rest would have to guess who their recipient is before handing their present over. This is a popular way of going about this practice in schools. Normally, people don’t open their gifts until Christmas day or until they come home.

One of the many pillars of Filipino values is a love and importance for family. Christmas is a time for reunification; if their own circumstances would permit, even relatives or family members who live as far as here in the US fly all the way to their real homes, bringing their pasalubong (homecoming gifts or souvenirs) along with them. Filipino families have unbreakable bonds, a distinct feeling of comfort and security–and they’re not just limited to those who are blood-related. No matter the sacrifices being made, we always come home to each other, some time, somewhere. This is just one of many things that make the Christmas season so meaningful to all of us; beyond the dazzling lights and extravagance lie the simple-yet-colorful blessings we pray and are grateful for.