Merry Christmas, friends!
After a busy first half of December, I finally have my much awaited Christmas vacation, one that I always spend in the province together with my families. It’s a time to relax, unwind, and enjoy some downtime with no rigid daily schedule to follow–time for catching up with family, as well as friends from high school, college, and from my previous work. Exciting days ahead!
Going back home here in the province where the celebration of Christmas is still heavily anchored on tradition and religion, I am reminded of the many things to love about Christmas here in the Philippines. From the colorful activities and practices to the interesting symbolisms, Christmas is a time when Filipinos shine.
The symbol of Christmas in the Philippines, the parol or Christmas lantern is a festive decorative item that you will find in almost all Filipino homes as Christmas nears. The hanging of the parol is almost like a ceremony—one signifying that Christmas is just around the corner.
It is so symbolic of the Filipino Christmas that there are even places in the Philippines that hold parol-making contests around this season. Participants gather different kinds of materials to create a unique design. In some villages, families hang festive and brightly lit lanterns in all the homes, illuminating the entire community and making the village a popular attraction.
No Filipino celebration is complete without a sumptuous meal. And during Christmas, many families go to great lengths to have good food served on the table on Christmas Eve.
Noche Buena is perhaps the center of the Christmas celebration in many Filipino families. All the Christmas preparations—the shopping, the cooking, the gift buying—culminate in the Noche Buena served on the eve of Christmas. From ham to lechon to various other types of food, Noche Buena is feast. It’s a time of thanksgiving, family gathering, and celebration, and even family members who are faraway would do their best to come home on Christmas and eat Noche Buena with the family.
“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way!”
As early as December 1, you will already hear Christmas carols not only being played in shopping malls but also being sung by kids on the streets as they go from one house to another playing makeshift musical instruments and belting out their favorite Christmas songs—to receive some coins from the audience.
I used to go on caroling when I was a kid. I would gather with my sister, brothers, cousins, and playmates, and then we would start roaming around the neighborhood when it gets dark, our voices ringing in the night. Sometimes we would come across other carolers, and we would trade information on which houses give more so we could go to those houses. At the end of the night, we would divide our loot and go home with big smiles. Fun times!
In my new neighborhood in the city, there are fewer kids going on caroling these days. Hearing them sing brings me back to the memory of our own karoling days, and I can only hope this tradition will continue in the future.
Christmas is also a time of gift giving. There are exchange gifts in schools and at the office, among friends. There’s gift giving in the family. And then there’s pamamasko among all inaanak (godchildren).
Filipino Catholics have Ninongs and Ninangs or godparents, people who are considered second parents to a child. When a child is baptized, the parents would usually select a set of godfathers and godmothers who would act as second parents to the child, providing additional guidance as the child grows up. I, for instance, have four (4) godmothers and four (4) godfathers. And now that I’m older, I already have 12 godchildren (mostly children of cousins and friends).
“Mamamasko po” is a phrase that means asking for gifts. During Christmas, godparents often prepare gifts for all their inaanaks, who would either visit them or who they would visit at home. This practice of gift-giving is a lovely tradition that highlights the Filipinos’ generous and loving spirit.
Christmas in the Philippines is a highly religious celebration. It’s a preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ, and what better way to celebrate than with the Holy Mass? Simbang Gabi is a series of mass celebrations conducted for nine (9) consecutive days, from December 16 to December 24.
When the Simbang Gabi starts in December 16, churchgoers rise very early to attend the early morning mass. Philippine churches come alive, and there’s a festive atmosphere all around as everyone grows excited for Christmas. They say that people who complete the nine (9) days mass can make a wish, and their wish will be granted. Not sure how true it is, but it’s a beautiful part of this practice that makes the Filipino Christmas celebration much richer.
What’s your favorite Christmas tradition, whether one shared by everyone in your community or one that is personal in nature? You’re welcome to share them in the comments. Merry Christmas! 🙂