By Abad Macabanding
Filipinos celebrate, likely, the longest Christmas celebration in the world. For as long as the months are “BER” months as what they used to call in the Philippines, then Christmas countdown will start. Christmas in the Philippines usually starts around September where festive Christmas carols begin to play on the television and radio, and Christmas decorations begin to appear in the streets and even outside the houses. Carnivals and parks are starting to open with the spirit of Christmas that you can really notice. Christmas trees usually begin to appear around the first two weeks of November. The Christmas songs, whether be it in English or Filipino language, play until Three Kings Day (first Sunday of January) and the Christmas Spirit ends at the end of February.
In the Philippines, Christmas spirit can be felt everywhere. About 90% of the Filipinos are Christians and 80% of them are known to be Catholic. As Asia’s largest Catholic country, how do Filipinos celebrate Christmas in the Philippines?
Filipinos observe traditions and customs during Christmas season. Christmas will not be complete if these traditions will not be applied and observed. First on the list is the Simbang Gabi or “Night Prayers.” This is one of the oldest Christmas traditions in the Philippines. It is a daily mass for nine days, held at dawn beginning on December 16. Filipinos go to church, attend an hour church service and perform Simbang Gabi. On Christmas Eve, they usually hold the church service in the evening. Filipinos believe that completing a nine-day mass will make your wishes or dreams come true. Noche Buena is another tradition that Filipinos do during Christmas. Noche Buena happens when the family members and visitors gather together and have handaan or “food celebration.” One of the Philippines’ cuisine that should be always on the table is the “Lechon” and ham. Lechon is a pig with seasonings and spices on it and roasted over the charcoal. Due to its costly price, Lechon is usually prepared only during celebrations like Christmas. Next is the so-called Pangangaroling. Pangangaroling is a tradition that children are very excited for. Filipino children will go to each house and entertain their neighbors in a way of singing any Christmas songs and as a return will receive a small gift or money as a gratitude. Aside from that, Filipinos also observe a gift exchange. Exchanging gifts is usually done on December 25.
Since the Philippines is a tropical country, they still perform Christmas in winter or snow themes or motifs. Shows and events in the park are done with a snow theme. Street foods are very popular in the Philippines, especially during Christmas. Puto Bumbong and bibingka are the desserts that you usually can buy in the streets. These desserts are cooked with coconut milk, rice, white sugar, and some toppings like cheese.
Last but not least is Christmas shopping. If you want to go shopping, be very early in the malls, especially when it’s last minute shopping. Due to the very cheap price of the gifts, most shopping malls are crowded and covered with massive Christmas decorations that attract shoppers as expected.
After Christmas, everyone is now waiting for the upcoming New Year. Just before midnight, streets make lots of noise to drive away the bad luck and welcome the upcoming New Year with lots of light “lusis” (sparklers), “kwitis” (fireworks) and “rebentador” (firecrackers, mini-bombs) which take hours before the noise ends.
Each country has traditions and customs during Christmas. Like in the Philippines, they have their own unique way of celebrating Christmas. However, Christmas will not be complete if happiness is not felt. For as long as each family is happy celebrating Christmas, then that is what really matters. Merry Christmas everybody and MALIGAYANG PASKO.
Abad Macabanding is a student at Lanesboro High School. He is one of seven area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 19th year.