Christmas in the Philippines: How Pinoys Celebrate the Holidays
Ah, the yuletide season has officially made its presence known all over the world! Countries in every corner of the globe have their own way of welcoming the start of Christmas. In the United States, the holidays begin on Thanksgiving in November, while the Italians start putting up their decorations on December 8, the day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
But the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic nation, kicks off the Christmas season as early as September! You’ll know it ’cause as soon as the -ber months begin, malls start putting up decorations; and wherever you go, you’ll hear the iconic voice of Filipino-Chinese crooner Jose Mari Chan singing the Filipinos’all-time favorite Christmas songs.
Below you’ll learn more fascinating ways we Pinoys celebrate Christmas in the Philippines. From Simbang Gabi to Noche Buena, get to know how the unique culture and traditions define the vibrant Pinoy spirit.
7 Reasons Why You Should Be Spending Christmas in the Philippines
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1. Simbang Gabi
In the Philippines, early morning masses known as Simbang Gabi are held on the days before Christmas. Around 80 percent of the country’s population are Catholics, making it the largest Christian country in Asia. Because of this, the birth of Christ the Savior has always been the center of the holiday. Simbang Gabi highlights the country’s Catholic culture through thanksgiving, worship, and petition throughout the nine-day service. Making a wish on the last day of Simbang Gabi has also become a wonderful part of this tradition.
Parols have long been a symbol of Christmas in the Philippines. Local barangays and schools even hold parol-making contests each year! A parol is a star-shaped lantern made of traditional bamboo poles. It is typically covered with colored Japanese paper or cellophane and is used to represent the star that guided the Three Kings to baby Jesus. Almost every household has a parol hung on the door or on any visible spot in the house. These colorful lanterns use LED lighting to create stunning light displays.
3. Dancing lights show
Dancing lights shows can be found all around the Philippines. The most popular ones are courtesy of Ayala Malls. The Ayala Triangle Garden Christmas lights show in Makati City opens in the early week of December and will continue to adorn the two-hectare landscape until the end of the month. Each year, crowds of couples, families, and friends flock to the area to witness the most spectacular lights show in the country.
You know who enjoys Christmas the most? It’s the kids! When the festive season begins, children gather their friends to do door-to-door caroling in their local neighborhoods. Some popular Filipino Christmas songs sung by children are “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit,” “Mano Po,” “Ninong,” and “Pasko Na Naman.” The songs are typically performed without a special musical instrument and are livened up with some dance moves. As a sign of gratitude, a small amount of money is given.
5. Puto Bumbong
After Simbang Gabi, you can find vendors of puto bumbong lining up the streets outside the church. The delicacy is the most sought-after kakanin during Christmas. It is made from a special glutinous rice called pirurutong, which gives it a distinctly purple tint. The mix is then soaked in salted water and dried overnight. Puto bumbong is served with butter margarine and shredded coconut.
6. Noche Buena
It won’t be Christmas in the Philippines without noche buena! Noche buena, which is also the Spanish term for Christmas eve, sees Filipinos gathering ’round the dining table to welcome the Christmas day over a bountiful meal. This meal is usually shared right after the midnight mass known as Misa de Gallo. Some of the most common dishes served for noche buena include sweet spaghetti, queso de bola, lumpia, relyenong bangus, and of course the Filipino favorite, lechon (roasted pig). Desserts include fruit salad and a variety of rice and flour-based cakes.
7. Exchanging Gifts or ‘Manito and Manita’
As it is their version of the popular Western tradition Secret Santa, Filipinos from all walks of life are familiar with the Manito-Manita gift-giving tradition. The title manito is given to the male gift recipient, while manita refers to its female equivalent. The practice is observed by cliques, households, offices, organization, and communities. It is driven by Filipino virtues such as trust and camaraderie and built on the belief that Christmas should be the season of giving.
On the 24th, kids and adults alike also enjoy opening presents given to them by the people they love. The value of these objects doesn’t matter because Filipinos are always appreciative of the gifts they receive.
So there you have it! Seven common cultures and traditions that are practiced during Christmas in the Philippines. Filipino families are extremely tight-knit, and as you might have noticed, these practices capture exactly just that. Hopefully, your Christmas will be just as vibrant this year!