To say that Filipinos take Christmas very seriously might be a massive understatement. Out of all the holidays in the year, the Christmas season might be both the biggest and most important one when it comes to the lives of Filipinos. That’s because Christmas in the Philippines is a season of being thankful for the year that has been and the closest opportunity to be with those they care out. So, how does Christmas in the Philippines look like?
We’re mostly familiar with how Christmas is celebrated in different parts of the world especially when December comes along. When talking about the Philippines however, their celebrations offer a unique look at their beliefs and culture and how it all ties into their everyday lives.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Perhaps the most telling sign of how Christmas in the Philippines is celebrated differently is when the holiday season actually starts. You might think it starts in December like most countries or probably even late in November to get a head start on everyone else. These are good guesses but you’d be surprised to know that Christmas season in the Philippines has not only started already, but it began last September!
The Philippines is known for having the longest Christmas season in the world, which starts just when the “Ber” months (SeptemBER, OctoBER etc) roll in. By the first week of September, major shopping malls already begin to put up holiday themed decorations. This also coincides with announced sales for those looking to start early with holiday shopping. To top it off, Christmas songs are played to fit the new ambience (to the delight and dismay of shoppers).
Christmas is associated with many standard decorations known by everyone. Christmas trees, wreaths, ornaments and candy canes are just some of the things that come to mind for instance. The Philippines has no shortage of these as well, but also has very uniquely Filipino decorations they’re known for.
One decoration you’re likely to see in many Filipino homes is the “parol.” It is a traditional star-shaped lantern commonly made from bamboo that glows with a light inside. Their sizes often vary and presentation can range from simple to an elaborate light show of different colors. The parol is such a big part of Christmas in the Philippines that you can also see some made from different materials; from plastic, metal, wood, foil and even drinking straws or feathers!
A more elaborate décor you’ll see is the “belen.” Derived from the Spanish translation of “Bethlehem,” a belen is diorama that depicts the birth of Christ on Christmas day. Because the Philippines is also a deeply religious country, you can find belens in living rooms of most Filipino homes. Don’t be surprised however if you see life-sized versions if you pass by churches or government buildings.
Yearly Holiday Traditions
The religious influence on Philippine culture is also prevalent in their yearly traditions. The most known is “Simbang Gabi” or “night mass.” For nine days, devout Filipinos attend masses that start as early as 3:00 am. This is often followed by a small get together with local delicacies and coffee.
“Noche Buena” is also a tradition that every Filipino has grown up with. Taking place right after a Christmas Eve mass, Noche Buena is considered the biggest feast prepared in the year. Expenses aren’t spared and you can expect an array of traditional Filipino food prepared for family and friends. It wouldn’t be Christmas in the Philippines if you weren’t at the dinner table with relatives eating lechon or adobo.
The Significance of Christmas in the Philippines
Perhaps the biggest reason why the holiday season is very important in the Philippines is that it means spending time with family. The holidays are an extra important time especially for people working or living abroad who come home after spending nearly the entire year away from their families. While we often see people in movies or television who get invited to spend Christmas with friends, this notion is considered absurd to Filipinos, who see Christmas as a time that is exclusively celebrated with family. If you’ve ever wanted to know just how important family is to Filipinos, being in the country during the Christmas season would be the best time to see.