Nowhere in the world is Christmas celebrated longer or more enthusiastically than in the Philippines. I remember as a kid, that as soon as September 1st hit, radio stations will begin playing Christmas songs and the countdown to the big day officially starts. Shopping malls will start selling Christmas-themed items, from clothing to accessories. Decorations will also become more apparent as it gets closer to December 25. Now that I am living someplace else, a few of the Philippines Christmas traditions I miss most are also some of the best experiences you’ll have when visiting during Christmas season.
My Favorite Philippines Christmas Traditions
Filipinos love Christmas so much that they start preparing for it as soon as the calendar switches to a “ber” month. When you visit the Philippines and stay in Manila or anywhere else in the country for that matter; you’ll see that almost every house features a lantern or “parol” in the local language. This hand-made holiday decoration comes in a variety of shapes and sizes but almost always feature a star; which represents the star of Bethlehem. Parols are generally made from bamboo sticks and colored cellophanes but there are also some that are made from shells and glass.
Children in the Philippines learn the art of parol making early on. It’s a common family activity around the holidays and is often taught in schools; but if you really want to see the craft, head over to the province of Pampanga, in a city called San Fernando, where an annual festival occurs and generations of families turned this once simple activity into an industry.
Simbang Gabi and Caroling
Other Philippines Christmas traditions worth experiencing include “simbang gabi” or night mass, and caroling. Simbang gabi is a series of nine masses that culminates on Christmas Eve. It has its origins from the Spanish occupation and has been part of Filipino tradition for centuries.
Caroling in the Philippines on the other hand is not likely what you’d expect anywhere else. It’s tradition for young children and sometimes teenagers to go door to door and sing Christmas carols for change. Filipinos have a disposition for entertaining and caroling around the neighborhood contributes to the joyous spirit that the Christmas season brings.
Of all the Philippines Christmas traditions, Noche Buena is perhaps the one I miss the most! This feast, held on Christmas Eve, embodies the importance of family and highlights the best Filipino food there is to offer. Ham and cheese are staples; as well as fruit salad, and Filipino-style spaghetti. A variety of rice cakes and lumpia (Filipino eggrolls) are almost always present as well. Families usually gather at the family matriarch’s home to celebrate the arrival of Christ with good food, presents and great company.