Christmas in the Philippines

Christmas in the Philippines
Parol (Christmas lanterns) being sold during the Christmas season in the Philippines. The parol is one of the most iconic and beloved symbols of the holiday.

Christmas in the Philippines, one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia (the other one being East Timor), is one of the biggest holidays in the archipelago. The country has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season,[1][2] with Christmas carols heard as early as September and the season lasting up until Epiphany, the feast of the Black Nazarene on January 9 or the Feast of the Santo Niño held every third Sunday of January.



There are various ethnic groups in the Philippines with different Christmas traditions. The following illustrates common activities for celebrating Christmas in the Philippines.

Christmas parties

In urban areas, especially in Metro Manila, many poo's and offices organize Christmas parties, which are usually held during the second week of December, or right before schools and universities go on holiday. Common activities include Monito/Monita or Kris Kringle, song and dance numbers, a skit or play, and parlor games. Food is provided either through potluck, or via a pool of contributions to buy food.Some have fireworks display.

Misa de Gallo/Simbang Gabi

Traditionally, Christmas Day in the Philippines is ushered in by the nine-day dawn and night masses that start on December 16. Known as the Misa de Gallo ("Rooster's Mass") in Spanish and in Filipino as Simbang Gabi, or "Night Mass", this novena of Masses is an important Filipino Christmas tradition.

These nine dawn Masses are also considered as a Novena by the Catholic and Aglipayan faithful. This refers to the practise of performing nine days of private or public devotion to obtain special graces.

In some parishes, the Simbang Gabi begins as early as three o'clock in the morning and another one at eight o' clock in the evening. Attendance at the nine Masses is meant to show the churchgoer's devotion and faith to God as well as to heighten anticipation for the Nativity of Jesus. A popular belief is that upon the devotee's completion of the nine Masses, a special wish made by him/her will be granted by God.

After hearing Mass, Filipino families partake of traditional Filipino holiday fare sold outside the church, either within the church precincts or during breakfast at home. Vendors offer a wealth of native delicacies, including bibingka (rice flour and egg-based cake, cooked using coal burners above and under); putò bumbóng (a purple, sticky rice delicacy steamed in bamboo tubes, with brown sugar and shredded dried coconut meat served as condiments); salabát (hot ginger tea); or tsokoláte (thick hot cocoa). In some Aglipayan churches, the congregation is invited after Mass to partake of the "paínit" (after-Mass snacks of delicacies with coffee or cocoa) at the house of the sponsor of the Mass.

In recent times, some Evangelical Christians and other independent denominations have adopted this practise by holding similar early morning services.

Christmas Eve

For Filipinos, Christmas Eve ("Bisperas ng Pasko") on December 24 is celebrated with the Midnight Mass, and immediately after, the much-anticipated Noche Buena – the traditional Christmas Eve feast. Family members dine together at around midnight on traditional Noche Buena fare, which includes: queso de bola (Spanish: "ball of cheese"; this is actually edam cheese), tsokoláte (a hot chocolate drink), pasta, fruit salad, and hamón (Christmas ham). Some families would also open presents at this time.


In different provinces and schools, the journey of Joseph and the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary in search of lodging is re-enacted. The pageant, traditionally called the "Panunulúyan", "Pananawágan", or"Pananapátan", is modelled after the Spanish Las Posadas.

The Panunulúyan is performed after dark, with the actors portraying Joseph and the Virgin Mary going to pre-designated houses. They chant a traditional song that is meant to rouse the owner of the house and to request for lodging. The owner/s (also actors) then turn away the Holy Family in song, reasoning that their house is already filled of other guests. Finally, Joseph and Mary make their way to the parish church where a replica of the stable has been set up. The birth of Jesus is celebrated at midnight with the Misa de Gallo.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day in The Philippines is primarily a family affair. The Misa de Aguinaldo is celebrated on December 25 and is usually attended by the whole family. In the Roman Catholic and Philippine Independent Churches, it is the main means of celebrating Jesus Christ's birth.

The Misa de Aguinaldo is often celebrated between 10 p.m and 12 midnight., a schedule preferred by many Filipinos who stay up late on Christmas Eve for the night-long celebration of the Noche Buena.

Preferably in the morning, Filipino families visit members of the extended family, notably the elders in order to pay their respects. This custom of giving respect has been an age-old tradition in the Philippines called "Pagmamáno"; this is done by bringing the elder's hand to one's forehead, while saying Máno Pô. The elder then blesses the person who has paid them respect. "Aguinaldo", or money in the form of crisp, fresh-from-the-bank bills is given after the Pagmamano, mostly to younger children. llA Christmas Lunch usually follows after the "Pagmamano". The lunch is heavily dependent upon the finances of the family. Wealthy families tend to prepare grand and glorious feasts that consist of Jamon de Bola, Queso de Bola, Lechon and other Filipino delicacies. Some poor families choose to cook simple meals, nevertheless still special. When the family is settled after the lunch, the exchange of gifts is usually done. Godparents are expected to give gifts or Aguinaldo to their godchildren.

When nighttime falls, members of the family usually take part in family talks while listening to favorite Christmas carols. Some may opt to have a glorious Christmas feast for dinner. Then, most of the children open red envelopes just like the chinese tradition. In these envelopes children receive money from their grandmother and/or grandfather.

Niños Inocentes

Niños Inocentes is commemorated on December 28 as Holy Innocents' Day or Childermas in other countries. The innocents referred to are the children who were massacred by order of Herod, who was seeking the death of the newborn Messiah. Filipinos celebrate the occasion doing pranks to one another, similar to April Fool's Day,[3] and readily admits "Na-Niños Inocentes ka." once called out. One of the most widely done sinister pranks on this day is to borrow money without the intention of paying back. Victims are usually helpless in getting remuneration from the offender, and are instead forewarned not to lend money on this day.

New Year's Eve

On December 31, New Year's Eve ("Bisperas ng Bagong Taon"), Filipino families gather for the Media Noche or midnight meal – a feast that is also supposed to symbolize their hopes for a prosperous New Year. In spite of the yearly ban on firecrackers, many Filipinos in the Philippines still see these as the traditional means to greet the New Year. The loud noises and sounds of merrymaking are not only meant to celebrate the coming of the New Year but are also cast out malevolent spirits. Safer methods of merrymaking include banging on pots and pans and blowing on car horns. Folk beliefs also include encouraging children to jump at the stroke of midnight so that they would grow up tall, displaying circular fruit and wearing clothes with dots and other circular designs to symbolize money, eating twelve fruits at 12 midnight for good luck in the twelve months of the year, and opening windows and doors during the first day of the New Year to let in the good luck.

Three Kings (First Sunday of the year)

Christmas officially ends on the Feast of the Three Kings (Tres Reyes in Spanish or Tatlong Hari in Tagalog), also known as the Feast of the Epiphany. The Feast of the Three Kings was traditionally commemorated on Jan. 6 but is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the New Year. Some children leave their shoes out, so that the Three Kings would leave behind gifts like candy or money inside. Jan. 6 is also known in other countries as Twelfth Night, and the "Twelve Days of Christmas" referred to in the Christmas carol are the twelve days between Christmas Day (December 25) and the coming of the Three Kings (January 6). But the season doesn't end on that day, it's on January 11 (Feast of the Baptism of Jesus) that the season ends (in 2011 it falls on a Sunday, the 9th of January, which is the second Sunday of the month), with the final festivities held on January 8 and 9 with the processions of the Black Nazarene in Manila and Cagayan de Oro, in honor of the image's 1787 transfer to its present residence in Quiapo Church, with the festivities even extending till the final week of the month for various places in the country due to the celebrations and festivals in honor of the Santo Nino or Christ Child, beginning on the third Sunday of January, in honor of the image which jump-started Christianity in the country in 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan came to Cebu carrying this image to the rulers of the island, and became the country's first Christian converts.


The Filipino Christmas would not be complete without the traditional Philippine Christmas symbols and decorations. Christmas lights are strung about in festoons, as the tail of the Star of Bethlehem in Belens, in shapes like stars, Christmas trees, angels, and in a large variety of other ways, going as far as draping the whole outside of the house in lights. Aside from Western decorations like Santa Claus, Christmas trees, tinsel, etc., the Philippines has its own ways of showing that it is the holidays. Instead of Christmas trees they use holly bushes.


Though not strictly a custom, every Christmas season, Filipino homes and buildings are adorned with beautiful star lanterns, called parol (Span. farol, meaning lantern or lamp-Merriam Webster - English English- Spanish Dictionary). The earliest parols were traditionally made from simple materials like bamboo sticks, Japanese rice paper (known as "papel de Hapon") or crepe paper, and a candle or coconut oil-lamp for illumination; although the present day parol can take many different shapes and forms. The most base form of the lantern is a 5-pointed star with two "tails" at the lower two tips. Other variations are 4, 8, 10 pointed stars with the rarer 6, 16 and so on pointed stars. The parol is also traditionally made of lacquered paper and bamboo, but others are made of cellophane, plastic, rope, capiz shell and a wide variety of materials. Making parols is a folk craft, and most Filipino kids have tried their hand at making a parol at one time or another, maybe as a school project or otherwise. The most basic parol can be easily constructed with just ten bamboo sticks, paper, and glue. These lanterns represent the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings (Tatlong Hari in Tagalog). Parols are to Filipinos as Christmas trees are to Westerners- an iconic and beloved symbol of the holiday.


Another traditional Filipino Christmas symbol is the belen -- a creche or tableau representing the Nativity scene. Derived from the Spanish name for the town of Bethlehem, Belén, it depicts the infant Jesus Christ in the manger, surrounded by the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the shepherds, their flock, the Magi and some stable animals and angels. Belens can be seen in homes, churches, schools and even office buildings; the ones on office buildings can be extravagant, using different materials for the figures and using Christmas lights, parols, and painted background scenery. A notable outdoor belen in Metro Manila is the one that used to be at the COD building in Cubao, Quezon City. In 2003, the belen was transferred to the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan when the COD building closed down. This belen is a lights and sounds presentation, the story being narrated over speakers set up and most probably using automatons to make the figures move up and down, or turn, etc. Each year, the company owning it changes the theme, with variations such as a fairground story, and Santa Claus' journey. On the other hand, Tarlac, known as the "Belen Capital of the Philippines" holds the annual "Belenismo sa Tarlac". It is a belen making contest which is participated by establishments and residents in Tarlac. Giant versions of the belen with different themes are displayed in front of the establishments and roads of Tarlac for the rest of the Christmas season.


In the Philippines, children in small groups go from house to house singing Christmas carols, which they called pangangaroling. Makeshift instruments include tambourines made with tansans (aluminum bottle caps) strung on a piece of wire. With the traditional chant of "Namamasko po!", these carolers wait expectantly for the homeowners to reward them with coins. Afterward, the carolers thank the generous homeowners by singing "Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo (you are so kind), thank you!"

An example of a traditional Filipino carol is a part of series known as "Maligayang Pasko", which was commonly called as "Sa maybahay ang aming bati":

Maligayang Pasko (Tagalog) Merry Christmas (English)
Sa maybahay, ang aming bati:
"Merry Christmas na maluwalhati!"
Ang pag-ibig, 'pag siya'y naghari
Araw-araw ay magiging Pasko lagi!!
Ang sanhi po, ng pagparito,
Ay hihingi po ng aguinaldo.
Kung sakaling, kami'y perwisyo;
Pasensya na kayo't kami'y namamasko!!
To the householder our greeting is:
"A Glorious Merry Christmas!"
If love should reign,
every day will be Christmas always!
The cause of our coming here
is to ask for gifts.
If it is so that we are a bother,
Do be patient as we're soliciting for Christmas!

More recently, caroling has become a fund-raising activity. Church choirs or youth groups spend weeks rehearsing Christmas carols then draw up a schedule of visits to wealthy patrons in their homes or even corporate offices (often coinciding with the office Christmas party). These are, in effect, mini Christmas concerts, with excellent performances amply rewarded with an envelope of cash or checks. The choirs then use the funds for goodwill projects. Unlike the traditional children's caroling, the singers do not partake of the earnings, but rather donate their share to the group's projects.


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