In most western countries Christmas lasts about two weeks-NOT SO THE PHILIPPINES. The Philippines has the longest Christmas season. The season is already celebrated as early as September where the months ending with the syllable ‘ber’ is considered to be Christmas months. It officially ends on the Feast of Epiphany or Three Kings (Tatlong Hari) on the first Sunday after the new year.
Composed of various ethnic groups, different Christmas traditions are being observed though, of course, they somehow share some relevant similarities.Throughout the Philippines, its many regions, provinces, towns and cities flamboyantly display its Christmas Spirit by the lights, lanterns and ‘belens’ in almost everywhere. Houses are already decorated with Christmas lights, Christmas trees and ‘Belens’. Some shoppers are already planning their Christmas List and purchasing Christmas items on stores. Christmas greetings are shared by friends and loved ones as the Christmas months progress.
With our rich culture and history, the Filipino Christmas tradition has become a mixture of the western and Asian culture. Popular Christmas Traditions/Customs in the Philippines lists down the things that makes Christmas in the Philippines unique and interesting. As Filipinos all-over the world celebrates this season of love, we relive our traditions and beliefs through this list!
The Parol (also known as the Philippine Lantern) is a unique Filipino decoration traditionally made from bamboo sticks, colorful papers and shaped like a five-pointed star. A candle or coconut-oil lamp is placed inside the Parol for illumination. Putting up a parol in homes, offices, schools and other establishments is a common Filipino tradition. Today, the Parol has been innovated as well, forming into various shapes, sizes and are being made out from different materials.
2. Simbang Gabi/Misa de Gallo
Nine (9) days before Christmas, a series of novena masses – locally known as Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo- are held in many Churches all over the Philippines. The novena, held at three or four o’clock in the morning, starts on December 16 and ends on the 24th of December. Several Filipino delicacies such as the bibingka are sold for churchgoers.The Simbang Gabi is a cherished Filipino religious tradition that shows deep devotion to God and increases the anticipation of the Nativity of Jesus. Many Filipinos believe that if a person completely attend the nine masses, he can make one special wish that will be granted by God.
3. Christmas Caroling
Like most countries , Christmas is celebrated with songs and praises. The Philippines are among those countries where Carolers are welcomed everywhere. Groups of people (children and adults) would roam around the streets visiting houses, singing their hearts out with their instruments – tambourines and guitars. At the end of the songs, after the home owners reward them with money, the carolers would chant or sing their words of “thanks”. Recently, caroling has become a fund-raising activity by Socio-Economic groups and private organizations.
Another popular Christmas decoration in the Philippines are the Belen. This is similar with the Nativity Scene in many western countries. It is a tableau depicting the Holy Family at the birth of Jesus. Like the Parol, Belens are also a favorite Filipino decoration that is displayed in many establishments, homes, offices, and parks. The Belens are often displayed until the celebration of the Feast of Epiphany which marks the end of the Christmas Season.
‘Panunuluyan’ is another Filipino tradition observed in some provinces throughout the Philippines. This is similar to the Mexican Posadas where the journey of Joseph and Mary in search for shelter while Mary was pregnant is being reenacted. In some provinces, the re-enactment is done on the Eve before Christmas.
6. Noche Buena
One of the most anticipated event for Filipinos during the Christmas season is the Noche Buena. It is a grand family dinner served at 12 midnight or after the midnight mass. Most families use their best china and silver ware during this feast and cook their best recipe. A mark of close family ties, the Noche Buena is a favorite family tradition among Filipinos.
During Christmas day, it is a common Filipino tradition to visit relatives. Children, together with other family members, would often wear their best or new clothes and go to elder relatives and godparents to pay their respect. An age-old tradition called ‘mano’ where one’s forehead is touched by the elder’s hand is practiced by the children during their visit. Usually, children are presented with gifts such as money, candy or toys by their godparents or relatives. These gifts are popularly called as aguinaldo.
8. New Year’s Eve
After Christmas Day, Filipinos will then anticipate the coming of the new year. On New Year’s Eve, Filipino families will now gather again for the annual Media Noche or Midnight Meal. Like the Noche Buena, the Media Noche is served at 12 midnight or after the midnight mass. The feast served during New Year’s Eve symbolizes the Filipino hopes of a prosperous new year. Setting out firecrackers, merry-making and loud noises is a tradition believed to cast out malevolent spirits.