It is no secret that the Philippines has one heck of a Christmas celebration. It’s the most anticipated time of the year. Way grander than the country’s own Independence Day.
It shouldn’t be a surprise. Christmas, after all, is an occasion for the family, and Filipinos are very much family-oriented.
Actually, the anticipation of Christmas starts on the arrival of the “-ber” months. So that’s from September, when the temperature starts to drop; Malls start to sell Christmas ornaments and people start buying gifts so as to avoid haggling as the occasion draws near.
Do you know that there is a “Pasko” (translation for Christmas) in the Philippines that happens before the “real” Pasko?
Believe it or not, it’s All Soul’s Day. For some reason, people have started to call it “Pasko ng Patay” (Christmas for the Dead), with the word “Pasko” not literally meaning Christmas but rather a “big celebration.” A festival of sort. Filipinos honor the dead very much that All Soul’s Day is not just a time for remembering the dearly departed, it has also become a wonderful time for families to get together and celebrate the glory of life and death.
After that supposedly dark celebration, the lights that signal the greatest occasion in the country are lit to provide warmth and joy. Now Christmas is really just around the corner.
But before we get to the day itself, Filipino Christmas will never be complete without a 9-morning-celebration called the Simbang Gabi (Night Mass), a celebration observed by members of the Roman Catholic Church.
In Simbang Gabi, people gather inside the church at 4 o’clock in the morning to hear a mass, celebrating the glory of the message to Mother Mary and her journey with Joseph to Bethlehem. Some churches nowadays hold a mass in the morning and at night to accommodate those who cannot attend the morning mass. To some this is more apt for the name Simbang Gabi.
If you want to learn more about Simbang Gabi, check this site
Filipino Christmas is also never complete with the decorations that celebrate the joyous occasions in vibrant colors. The Philippine “Parol” (lantern) is the most popular symbol of Christmas in the country.
The Parol is usually star-shaped and is made to signify the star that illuminated the manger where Jesus Christ was born in and which guided the Three Wise Men in their journey. It can be made of any material and in any size. The most popular in the country are those made of capiz which are exported to other countries. A parol can be very ordinary-looking or special such as those that can be lit, but no matter what the type is, they are symbols of craftsmanship.
Know more about Parol here
During the 9-day Simbang Gabi or even a few days before, people – mostly children – go out in the neighborhood and do “Karoling” (caroling).
In the Philippines, there is a “naughty-kid” spice added to it, making the Philippine Caroling truly a different experience.
Give the carolers some change or gift and they’ll sing to you their gratitude:
“Thank you, thank you. Ang babait ninyo, thank you!”
(Thank you, thank you. How nice of you, thank you)
Now, if a bunch of kids stop in front of your house and starts singing and you find yourself without loose change, don’t just shove them off or tell them your excuse. Say “patawad” literally translated as “forgive me”. It’s a way of making the kids understand that you can’t give them any and that you appreciate their efforts.
But now brace yourself, for this is could be the time when you will get a retraction from the kids. But don’t worry, they’d do it through a song. They’d go:
“Thank you, thank you. Ang babarat ninyo, thank you!”
(Thank you, thank you. How stingy you are, thank you)
Learn more about Filipino Caroling
The Philippine Christmas Eve is celebrated with a Noche Buena, a term derived from the Spanish phrase “Good Night.” With the Philippines being a Spanish colony in the past, the tradition of having family dinner is observed in the country as well. However, Noche Buena in the Philippines starts after a family has attended the Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass). A Filipino dining table would usually have pancit, chicken dishes, lumpia, adobo, among others for the main courses; puto bumbong, bibingka, fruit salad and other native desserts; and soda, juice, beer or wine for drinks.
Learn more about Noche Buena
There are a number of ethnic groups in the Philippines that celebrate Christmas in a variety of ways. These are only the most common activities and preparations that the locals do and make to celebrate the world’s longest Christmas season.
Learn more about Philippine Christmas in these sites:
drawings by j. arboleda jr.