Only in the Philippines!
I don’t think there is any country in the world that celebrates Christmas the way Filipinos do. It’s only in the Philippines that Christmas is celebrated the longest. The Christmas feel begins on September 1 – the beginning of the BER months to the Feast of Epiphany or Three Kings on the first Sunday of January after New Year. Imagine that? A four-month-long Christmas celebration!
While Christmas is celebrated all over the world, Filipinos were able to create traditions that are truly theirs. When it is talked about and shared with other people, especially foreigners, they usually say that it is, in fact, only in the Philippines.
Wherever you are in the country, you’ll see most of the things in this list that I’ll be sharing with you, if not all. Since the Philippines is a largely Catholic place, most of the church-related items here are rather religious. While I am sure there are other ways people celebrate Christmas in the Philippines, growing up, these are things I have seen and practiced.
Below are some of the traditions and customs that are practiced by Filipinos.
1. BER Months
At the onset of the BER months, you’ll already hear Jose Mari Chan’s long list of Christmas classics on the mall speakers, radio stations, and even on TV. The two major channels in the country also have this tradition of releasing their Christmas station ID, which usually makes you shed a tear.
September is basically the beginning of the Christmas season in the Philippines. Some families start decorating in September, especially if they do not decorate for Halloween. But often, families decorate after Halloween or at least a month before Christmas.
2. Parols or Christmas Lantern
A parol is also known as a lantern. In the Philippines, a parol is traditionally shaped in a star and is made from colorful papers, bamboo sticks. Somewhere in 1928, these lanterns were created to help the villagers find their churches or chapels to pray. These lanterns were eventually used to enhance the spirit of Christmas. Filipinos usually put parols in the front of the house, their schools, and offices.
3. Misa De Gallo or Simbang Gabi
For many Filipinos, completing the Misa De Gallo is a bucket list they have to check every December. This tradition started in the Spanish colonial periods as a compromise for Filipino farmers who worked before sunrise, so that they can avoid working under the heat of the sun.
Misa De Gallo is also known as the nine mornings. This is a series of mass that starts on December 16 and ends on December 24. These masses are made in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Filipinos have to wake up in the crack of dawn.
4. Puto Bumbong and Bibingka
Filipinos are known to be great with food – either in cooking or in eating them. With that in mind, Filipinos have a different craving during the Christmas season. After attending Misa De Gallo or Simbang Gabi, expect some stalls outside the church that sells puto bumbong, bibingka or nectarous rice cake and the famous tsokolate or hot chocolate. Of course, other native delicacies and snacks are being sold in the area. Sometimes, the church even provides the tsokolate for free for the people who attended the mass.
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Some bigger churches in the Philippines usually hold bazaars outside their building. This is to encourage people to reminisce Filipino traditions like buying the native delicacies that are just available during Christmas. There are other cute finds during these bazaars as well, usually intended for Christmas Eve like queso de bola, ham, or some trinkets for gifts.