Christmas Traditions in the Philippines

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The Philippines is the only country in the entire world that celebrates Christmas season the longest. As soon as the first month ending in “-ber” roll in, everyone gets into the holiday spirit. At the beginning of September, you’ll start hearing Christmas carols being played on the radio in shopping malls.

Bibingka
Bibingka

The Filipinos consider Christmas as their most important holiday. Since Filipinos, in general, value traditions, they go through the same things each year come Christmas time. The traditions they observe are a mixture of Western and native Filipino customs. Among the customs taken from Western culture is the use of Christmas trees, the singing of Christmas carols, sending of Christmas cards, and the belief in Santa Claus.

The actual list of Christmas traditions observed in the Philippines is quite extensive, and this article will give you a glimpse of some of those.

Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo
Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo

1. Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) or Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster)

It’s a series of nine pre-dawn masses that begins at 4 o’clock in the morning of December 16 and leads up to early morning of Christmas Eve. It marks the beginning of formal Christmas celebrations. After hearing mass, families gather outside church premises to share breakfast bought from vendors lined up there.

Puto Bumbong
Puto Bumbong

2. Puto Bumbong and Bibingka Galapong

These native delicacies are the stars of the post-Simbang Gabi breakfast. Puto bumbong is a purple, sticky rice delicacy cooked using bamboo tubes that are heated over charcoal fire and flavored with butter, brown sugar, and shredded dried coconut meat. Bibingka galapong, on the other hand, is a yellow rice cake made even yummier with caramelized sugar and slices of salted eggs. These delicious delicacies are washed down with warm ginger tea locally known as salabat or hot, thick, Spanish-style chocolate drink.

Hands offering different gifts for christmas eve
Hands offering different gifts for christmas eve

3. Kris Kringle

This is the Filipino version of Secret Santa and is a common practice in schools and workplaces. It’s a form of exchanging gifts, albeit done anonymously. Each participant will pick out a name from a box or a jar (codenames are usually used instead of the person’s real name), and this is the person to whom he will give a gift. The identities of the giver and receiver are later on revealed during the class or office Christmas party.

4. Aguinaldo

This is a literal translation of the Spanish word that means ‘bonus’. It refers to the monetary gifts that children receive from their godparents or elderly relatives.

Noche Buena
Noche Buena

5. Noche Buena

Everyone looks forward to this event, which takes place after the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Everyone comes in his or her best and newest attire. Children are in their best behaviors because they know they will be receiving their pamasko or Christmas loots from their family. This is supposedly a grand family dinner but eventually turns out to be an open house. About 15-20 dishes are spread out on the table for the family, friends, neighbors, and relatives to enjoy. The star of the night is the lechon or roasted whole pig, a favorite during such occasions.

Caroling
Caroling

6. Caroling

As the name suggests, this activity involves the singing of Christmas carols. Using makeshift musical instruments, groups of young children go from house to house and sing a medley of Christmas carols. Homeowners are supposed to reward the children with coins afterwards.

Parol Vendor by Keith Bacongco via Wikipedia
Parol Vendor by Keith Bacongco via Wikipedia

7. Belen and Parol

These refer to traditional Christmas decorations that are never missing from the homes of Filipinos. The Belen is a tableau depicting the nativity scene. The Parol is the actual Tagalog translation of lantern and depicts the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the Magi to the manger where Christ was born.

Media Noche Plate
Media Noche Plate

8. Media Noche

This refers to the lavish midnight feast that families prepare on New Year’s Eve or December 31. The food laid out on the table symbolizes a family’s hope for prosperity for the coming year. You’ll see lots of round food – cheeses, fruits, and more – on the table because apparently, they symbolize money.

9. Niños Inocentes (Holy Innocents’ Day)

This is observed on December 28 and was previously depicted as the Filipinos’ answer to April Fools’ Day. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that this day actually commemorates the innocent male infants who were killed by order of King Herod (in order to thwart the birth of the Messiah).

10. Three Kings’ Day

This signifies the official end of the Christmas season in the Philippines. This is the Sunday after New Year’s Day and commemorates the Feast of the Epiphany.

These are just 10 of the usual traditions observed in the Philippines during the Christmas Season.

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