PHILIPPINES

Christmas in the Philippines, one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia (the other one being East Timor), is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar and is widely celebrated. The country has earned the distinction of celebrating the world’s longest Christmas season, with Christmas carols heard as early as September 1 when the “Ber Months” season kicks off traditionally. The season is officially ushered in by the nine-day dawn Masses that start on December 16. Known as the Misas de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses) or Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass) in the traditional Spanish, these Masses are more popularly known in Tagalog as the Simbang Gabi, and are held in Catholic parishes and chapels nationwide. Usually, aside from the already legal holidays which are Rizal Day (December 30) and New Year’s Eve (December 31), other days in close proximity such as Christmas Eve (December 24), Niños Inocentes (December 28), and the Epiphany (traditionally, January 6 but now on the first Sunday of January) are also declared non-working days.
As in many East Asian countries, secular Christmas displays are common both in business establishments and in public, including lights, Christmas trees, depictions of Santa Claus despite the tropical climate, and Christmas greetings in various foreign languages and various Philippine languages. Occasionally such displays are left in place even in summer for example the parol representing the “Star of Bethlehem” which led the Three Kings to the newborn Baby Jesus.

For Filipinos, Christmas Eve (Tagalog: Bisperas ng Pasko; Spanish: Víspera del Día de Navidad) on December 24 is celebrated with the Midnight Mass, and immediately after, the much-anticipated Noche Buena – the traditional Christmas Eve feast. Family members dine together around 12 midnight on traditional Nochebuena fare, which may include: queso de bola (English: “ball of cheese”; this is actually Edam cheese), tsokolate (a hot chocolate drink), and jamón (Christmas ham), lechón, roast chicken or turkey, pasta, relleno (stuffed bangus or chicken), pan de sal, and various desserts including cakes and the ubiquitous fruit salad. Some would also open presents at this time.

On December 31, New Year’s Eve (Tagalog: Bisperas ng Bagong Taon; Spanish: Víspera del Año Nuevo), Filipino families gather for the Media Noche or midnight meal – a feast that is also supposed to symbolize their hopes for a prosperous New Year. In spite of the campaign against firecrackers, many Filipinos still see these as the traditional means to greet the New Year. The loud noises and sounds of merrymaking are also supposed to drive away bad spirits. Safer methods of merrymaking include banging on pots and pans and blowing on car horns. Folk beliefs also include encouraging children to jump at the stroke of midnight in the belief that they will grow up tall, displaying circular fruit and wearing clothes with dots and other circular designs to symbolize money, eating twelve grapes at 12 midnight for good luck in the twelve months of the year, and opening windows and doors during the first day of the New Year to let in good luck.

Christmas officially ends on the Feast of the Three Kings (Tres Reyes in Spanish or Tatlong Hari in Tagalog), also known as the Feast of the Epiphany (Spanish: Fiesta de Epifanía). The Feast of the Three Kings was traditionally commemorated on January 6 but is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the New Year. Some children leave their shoes out, in the belief that the Three Kings will leave gifts like candy or money inside. But the celebrations do not end there, since 2011, as mandated by the Catholic Church, they are on the second Sunday of January in honor of the Lord Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan (the Solemnity of the Lord’s Baptism or in Spanish Solemnidad de Bautismo del Señor). The final salvo of these celebrations is marked by the feast of the Black Nazarene every January 9 in Manila and Cagayan de Oro, but can also, due to the celebrations in honor of the Santo Niño in the third and fourth Sundays of January in some places, can even extend till the final weeks of that month.

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