Philippines is one of the two pre-dominant Catholic countries in Asia. There is 90% Christian population in Philippines out of which 80% are Catholics. Thus, Christmas is celebrated with a lot of pomp and show in this island nation from September to January.

The Tagalog word Pasko is derived from the Spanish word Pascua which means Easter though Pascua de Navidad refers to Christmas. The country has earned a special position for celebrating the longest Christmas season in the world. One can hear the singing of the Christmas carols in shops and market places as early as September followed by different feasts lasting until third week of January. However, the official observance of the festival begins with the Simbang Gabi on December 16 to the Epiphany on January 6.

In urban areas, many offices, schools and colleges organize Christmas parties in the third week of December. Common activities at these places include Monito Monita or Kris Kringle, a version of the Secret Santa, musical performances, shorts skits and a display of fireworks.

Christmas in Philippines

Simbang Gabi or the Night Worship

Simbang Gabi or Night Worship takes place for nine days (novena) starting on December 16 until the Christmas Eve. While Catholic and Aglipayan denominations practice Simbang Gabi, the independent Protestant churches and the Evangelical Christian order practice the pre-Christmas dawn services.

There is a belief among the people that God grants special blessings and wishes to a worshipper who attends mass regularly for nine days.

In the morning, the Simbang Gabi begins at 3 a.m. However, some churches hold mass at 10 p.m. as well. After attending the mass, the Filipino Catholic families buy special Filipino Holiday Fare for breakfast served outside the church. There are delectable native dishes available here like bibingka which is a flat but thick rice and egg based cake, cooked using coal burners, puto bumbong which is a rice delicacy steamed in bamboo tubes, buttered and sprinkled with brown sugar and shredded coconut.

Drinks mainly include coffee, a Spanish hot chocolate called tsokolate and a warm ginger tea called Salabat.

Some Aglipayan churches also offer painit which is a post-Mass snack of rice pastries with coffee and cocoa to the entire congregation.

Bisperas ng Pasko or Christmas Eve

Bisperas ng Pasko or Christmas Eve is celebrated with a Midnight Mass on December 24. After the mass, the entire family gets together for a traditional dinner consisting of bola de queso (cheese balls), jamon (Ham), pasta, fruit salad and relleno.

On Christmas Eve, in many provinces enact the scene of Joseph and Virgin Mary looking for an Inn. It goes by the name of "Panunulúyan", "Pananawágan", or "Pananapátan", and it is modelled after Las Posadas celebrated in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries. A long procession is carried out by children with images of Joseph and Virgin Mary. They knock on doors and sing songs asking for accommodation help for the duo. They are turned down by two families until a third one finally offers to help.

Cristmas Midnight Mass Philippines

Christmas Day

Every Filipino looks forward to Noche Buena, the grand family feast after the Midnight Mass. December 25 in Philippines is a day of reunion with family and loved ones. The Misa de Aguinaldo is celebrated on this day. The day begins with the traditional custom of paying respect to the elder members of the family. It is called Pagmamáno and it involves kissing or placing the elder’s hand to one’s forehead and saying the phrase Máno Pô which literally means Hand, Please. The elder then showers blessings on this person and gives Aguinaldo which are fresh bank bills. This is mostly given to younger children. Most Godparents give Aguinaldo to their godchildren on this day.

There is a grand family lunch held after the Aguinaldo ceremony. Traditionally, it is prepared at home, but today, many families prefer going outside as well. Either way, after lunch, all members open their special Christmas presents. People greet each other saying Maligayang Pasko or Merry Chirstmas in Tagalog.

In the evening, people either have another celebration with friends or neighbours or simply sit back and relax enjoying the festivities and basking in the Christmas spirit.

Niños Inocentes or Childermas

Niños Inocentes or Childermas is celebrated on December 28. There was a time when this day was celebrated by playing pranks on one another, which usually involved borrowing money from the other person with the intention of never returning it. Thus, most people are very alert about lending money on this day. People who become victims of such pranks are teased calling them Na-Niños Inocentes ka!

Bisperas ng Bagong Taon or New Year’s Eve

Bisperas ng Bagong Taon or New Year’s Eve, Filipinos gather together for the Media Noche, a feast symbolizing their wishes and hopes for a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Some either light fire crackers, while some enjoy the occasion by banging on pans and pots and blowing car and bike horns. Some traditional beliefs of Filipinos include asking children to jump at midnight to increase their height, a display of fruits in a circular manner, wearing clothes in circular designs and images to symbolize money, eating twelve grapes at midnight to call for good luck twelve months of the year and keeping all windows and doors open to allow the blessings to flow in freely and also making a lot of noise in greeting and celebration so as to scare the evil spirits away.

Tatlong Hari or Three Kings’ Day or the Epiphany

Three Kings’ Day or Epiphany is observed on January 6 or on the first Sunday after New Year. This day officially marked the end of Christmas until 2011. There was a practice amongst children to leave their shoes outside the window so that the Three Kings could fill them with small gifts like candies and money. This custom has a Hispanic origin and is not so popular today in commercial towns of Philippines.

Feast of Black Nazarene

Also called the Feast of Baptism of Jesus, the ceremony is held either on the Monday after the Epiphany or the second Sunday of the New Year. There are processions of the Black Nazarene in Manila and Cagayan de Oro on January 8 and 9. The Feast of Black Nazarene marks the official end of the festive season as proclaimed by the Catholic Church since 2011.

Christmas Feast Philippines

Feast of the Santo Niño

Feast of the Santo Niño or Feast of the Christ Child is held every third Sunday of January. The image of Santo Niño de Cebú, the first Christian icon brought to the island in the 16th century is associated with this day.

Christmas Decorations

Following the steps of America and UK, there are a lot of variations in the decorative items like Santa Claus, tinsel, faux evergreens, reindeer, etc. Christmas lights hung outside the house in festoons and the Christmas star are found in almost every household today especially in the big cities.  However, there are many traditional decorations which are still popular for example, parol and Belén.

Christmas Decorations Philippines

Parol

Parols are beautiful star shaped lanterns which represent the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Kings to the Inn where Jesus was born. Almost every family either makes a parol or purchases it to place it outside their door or window. Earlier these parols were made of very simple material like bamboo, Japanese rice paper or crêpe paper with a candle, an oil lamp, bulb or flashlight placed inside to shine through. Today, the more extravagant parols are either four, five, ten or ten pointed stars made of materials like cellophane, plastic, glass, etc. Parol making is regarded as a folk craft and there is an annual event called the Giant Lantern Festival held in San Fernando City, Pampanga which is a competition of the best giant lanterns in the city. It has duly earned San Fernando the title of being the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.

Belén

Belén is a Christmas symbol signifying the Birth of Jesus in the manger surrounded by Joseph and Mary, the Three Kings, the Shepherds and their flock and the Guiding Star. These Beléns are a depiction of the Nativity Scene which is placed outside homes, offices or churches. It is a light and sound presentation with speakers narrating the story and animations to move the figures. The Belén has various themes each year in different places. Tarlac City, Tarlac is known as the Belén Capital of the Philippines because of the annual Belén making competition called ‘Belénísmo sa Tarlac’ held there.

Thus, the Southeast Asian Island nation has a lavish celebration of the festive season keeping intact the traditional spirit of the festival. There are heavy influences of the western Christmas celebrations and Hispanic customs and traditions in the Christmas Celebrations in Philippines. However, the celebrations still reflect the original traditions and beliefs of the Filipinos. The longest celebration of the festival is marked by important events with a fabulous history and legends from the ancient past.

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