A Philippine Christmas
By Jasmine C. Sison
The Philippines is known for celebrating the longest Christmas season. You know the season has started when you hear the sad ballad "Pasko
na Sinta Ko" playing over the airwaves here in
Metro Manila. As early as October, western Christmas carols are played in malls
to lure early shoppers.
Soon after, streets are lined with bright "parols." Thankfully, these
momentarily provide motorist visual relief as rush hour traffic builds to a
standstill, peaking a day or two before Christmas.
Malls and supermarkets are mad houses. Shoppers stand in
line for hours to check out and have gifts wrapped. Finding a
parking slot is a no small feat; while getting a cab is next to impossible!
Perhaps its the countless Kris Kringles and Christmas parties adding to the
season's chaos. Or we just have to look long and hard for appropriate
gifts our incredibly shrinking peso can buy. Or perhaps, many are drifting
between sleep and consciousness as they attempt to get up before sunrise for
nine straight days to attend dawn masses.
These nine-day dawn masses, known as Simbang Gabi or Misas
de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses) starts on December 16. Many Filipinos
believe they will obtain special graces by attending all dawn masses.
For those wondering, historians trace the Simbang Gabi's origin to
Mexico. Spanish missionaries brought the tradition to the Philippines in
the 17th century when masses were held as early as 4 o'clock in the morning to
accommodate farmers who needed to tend their fields early.
As they presumably were during the Spanish era,
December nights are about as "chilly" as Philippine weather gets. However,
inside packed churches, it's a different story. Body heat and carbon
dioxide drive throngs of people to fan themselves as they fight to stay awake!
The aromas of native Christmas delicacies outside tempt churchgoers.
Piping hot bibingka (rice cake), puto bumbong (a purple
sticky rice delicacy steamed in wooden tubes), salabat (ginger tea) and
thick cocoa are among the traditional breakfast treats for sleep-deprived
The start of Simbang Gabi also marks the start of Christmas
caroling in the Philippines. Cool nights come with bursts of firecrackers
and kids' shrill interpretations of familiar western and local Christmas songs
like, "Jingle Bells", "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", and "Pasko Na Naman!"
After the nine-day dawn masses, the Misa de Gallo is celebrated before midnight of
December 24. Then its off to the Noche Buena (traditional Christmas Feast
after the midnight mass) to celebrate with the rest of the family. This
much-awaited family reunion typically finds excited kids playing and opening
gifts. Traditional Noche Buena fare is Queso de Bola (ball of
cheese) and Hamon (Christmas Ham), usually served with hot chocolate.
The Post Christmas Calm
The streets are normally free of traffic on Christmas day
and the few days after as many take extended vacations.
It's the time adults rest their weary bodies and empty wallets! On the
other hand, its time for kids to visit carnivals and malls. It's also time
to pay their favorite ninongs and ninangs (godfathers and godmothers) fruitful
Oh my, how would one describe Christmas in the Philippines?
Warm, festive, crazy, impractical perhaps? One may even argue the essence
of Christmas is largely lost in all the frenzy. But that's another story.
Whatever it is, it seems to reflect the Filipino's spiritual yearning and
fondness of family, food and all that's western! To some extent, it also
reflects collective hope, resilience and ability to cope even in the most trying
From the Philippines, we wish you peace, warmth of family
and the feeling of home this Christmas.
Back to top
Some images from www.seasite.niu.edu/tagalog/cynthia/festivals/philippine_christmas.htm