The Philippines, often dubbed the “Land of Fiestas,” is renowned for its vibrant festivals and celebrations. Among them, Christmas stands out as the most anticipated and extended celebration. A predominantly Catholic nation, the Philippines embraces the Christmas season with a unique blend of religious fervor, local traditions, and Western influences. Here’s a look at how Christmas is celebrated in the archipelago.
1. The World’s Longest Christmas Season
Christmas in the Philippines unofficially begins in September, the start of the ‘ber months, and extends to the first Sunday in January, the Feast of the Three Kings. Shops start playing carols, and houses begin to adorn twinkling lights and colorful decorations as early as September.
2. Simbang Gabi (Night Mass)
One of the most cherished traditions is the Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo. It’s a series of nine dawn masses leading up to Christmas Day, symbolizing the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus. Attending all nine masses is believed to grant the devotee a wish.
3. Parol: The Iconic Christmas Lantern
The Parol, a star-shaped lantern made of bamboo and paper, symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem. Streets, homes, and establishments are adorned with these lanterns, illuminating the nation with their colorful glow.
4. Noche Buena: A Festive Feast
On Christmas Eve, after the last Simbang Gabi or Midnight Mass, families gather for the Noche Buena – a grand feast that lasts into the early hours of Christmas Day. Traditional dishes include lechon (roast pig), bibingka (rice cake), and queso de bola (Edam cheese).
5. Monito Monita: Gift Giving
Adapted from the Western Secret Santa tradition, Monito Monita involves individuals drawing names to determine their assigned person to surprise with a gift. It adds an element of mystery and excitement in the lead-up to Christmas.
6. Caroling: Spreading Joy through Song
Children and adults alike go from house to house singing carols, with hopes of receiving coins or treats in return. With a rich musical culture, Filipino Christmas carols are an integral part of the celebration.
7. Panunuluyan: A Live Nativity Play
Communities come together to re-enact Joseph and Mary’s search for an inn in Bethlehem. The play culminates in the birth of Jesus, often staged in a local church or community center.
8. Welcoming the New Year
The New Year’s celebrations in the Philippines are closely tied to Christmas festivities. Families come together, lighting fireworks and making loud noises to drive away evil spirits and usher in good fortune.