A dish of lechon kawali

The Philippines celebrates the longest Christmas season in the world; The last four months of the year are considered Christmas months, so the festivities begin in September and end on the first Sunday in January, which is the Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings. December is one of the cooler months of the year in the Philippines, falling in between the wet and dry seasons. There are approximately 187 different languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines. The Tagalog word for Christmas is “Pasko”, which comes from the Spanish word “Pascua”, which means Easter. In many Spanish-speaking countries, this word is commonly used to refer to Christmas as well. 

The Philippines is a largely Christian nation, with 90% of the population professing Christianity, and of that 80% belong to the Catholic Church. As such, Christmas is a very important holiday for Filipinos. The formal Christmas celebrations begin on December 16th, when many attend the first of nine pre-dawn masses called “Simbang Gabi”, with the last mass being in the evening on Christmas Day.

Christmas traditions in the Philippines are a mix of the western and the native; expect to find Santa Claus, Christmas trees decorated with lights, garland, and festive ornaments, Christmas cards and carols, and much more brought over from European settlers. However, the most important tradition in the Filipino household is by far the parol; a Christmas lantern made with a bamboo pole or frame and a star-shaped lantern at the end. The pole or frame is decorated with colorful rice paper, tissue, or cellophane, and the star-shaped lantern represents the star of Bethlehem that guided the magi on their journey to visit the baby Jesus. Every family has at least one to hang in their home. Nativity scenes, called Belen, can also be found in homes, schools, churches, and around the country.

The Filipino version of Secret Santa is called Monito Monita or Kris Kringle; popular among groups of students, office workers, friends, and family, each participant in the game is responsible for anonymously giving another a gift. When it’s time to open the presents, the gift-givers are revealed to the recipients.

On Christmas Eve, called “Bisperas ng Pasko”, some Catholics commemorate Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging on the night of Jesus’ birth with a reenactment called panunuluyan, a tradition that is very similar to Mexican posadas. Later in the evening, after the final midnight mass comes a midnight feast called Noche Buena, or Good Night. The feast is big open-house celebration for family, friends, and neighbors to celebrate Christmas together. The meal consists of several dishes, including lechon, or roasted pig cooked over charcoal, buko salad, a coconut salad mixed with fruits, and rice cakes like bibingka and puto bumbong, served alongside steamed rice, other sweets, barbecued foods, and a variety of drinks. Presents are opened, lots of good food is eaten, and everyone spends time with their loved ones.

Christmas Day is a day to visit relatives. Children especially look forward to asking their godparents and grandparents for aginaldo, or fresh bills of money.

Holiday Traditions in the Philippines

Video by The Antonio Bros

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