Christmas in the Philippines is brimming with customs and celebrations. But these are not merely colorful traditions. Filipino Christmas means feasts, lights, and laughter with dear friends and family. If you’re going to the Philippines in December and dive in the season’s festive spirit, here’s how Filipinos celebrate Christmas:
By September 1, you would likely hear Christmas songs on the radio blasting in the neighborhood, public vehicles, malls, hotels, restaurants, and other establishments. The most famous song you’ll hear is “Christmas In Our Hearts” by Filipino singer-songwriter Jose Mari Chan. If you look up the lyrics, the song already encapsulates the traditions and spirit of Filipino Christmas.
Filipinos love to set up and spread the joyful Christmas mood with ornaments. Golden bells, shiny star lanterns, and glittery red and green decors are everywhere in the country. Some provinces take their Christmas decorations to the next level and create decors out of their local products, such as those made from bamboo, indigenous materials, and recycled products. Malls also put up their grandest Christmas displays inside or outside their buildings.
Gift-giving can be wrapped with humor. Monito Monita, which is similar to Secret Santa, refers to a series of exchanging gifts among groups of friends, classmates, or officemates. It may happen weekly or depends on what the group will agree on. Participants will draw the name of the person who must receive a gift from them every gift-giving session. The name must not be revealed until the final session. There will be a price limit and a theme for gifts that will be announced ahead of each session. Examples of themes are “something sweet”, “something long and hard”, “something useful”, and “something you can find in the bathroom.”
Caroling is a popular Christmas tradition in the Philippines. Carolers travel from house to house at night and sing their favorite Christmas tunes. Carolers are usually groups of children using handmade or toy musical instruments, like maracas, tambourines, and drums made of tins. The most common Christmas carols in the Philippines are “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit”, “Jingle Bells”, “Silent Night”, and “Mano Po Ninong”. After giving them money as a reward for singing, the house owner will receive a “thank you” in the form of a song as well.
If you’ll participate in Simbang Gabi, or Night Mass, bring out your sweater as you will feel the December breeze when you head to the church early in the morning. Simbang Gabi is a tradition wherein Filipinos attend nine consecutive masses in anticipation of Christmas. This is held from December 16 to 24 and takes place as early as 3 AM or 5 AM. The last day of Simbang Gabi is Christmas Eve, and it is called Misa de Gallo. After Simbang Gabi, mass-goers would buy puto bumbong (a purple rice cake cooked inside a bamboo tube) and bibingka (rice cake cooked in clay pots) from stalls around the church.
Noche Buena is the meal Filipinos eat on Christmas eve after the midnight mass. The most common dishes found on a Filipino Noche Buena table are Spaghetti, Morcon (a slice of beef wrapped around ham, cheese, hotdog, bacon and dipped in tasty stock and tomato sauce), relyenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), sweet ham, Queso de Bola, and fruit salad. Aside from filling your belly with food, you’ll experience the warmth and meaningful time shared by the family and closest loved ones during the meal.
On the morning of Christmas Day, December 25, children will open their gifts under their Christmas tree. Expect your doorbell to ring several times because there will be children from your neighborhood, your godchildren, or relatives, in their best clothes, who will call your attention in front of your door with the phrase “Namamasko po!” This means it is time for you to give them your “Aguinaldo” or gifts.
Going to the Philippines this Christmas season? Don’t forget to order Philippines Globe Telecom 8GB Sim Cards for a seamless Internet connection.
*Featured image by Gep Pascual via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)