Don't you love Christmas? The smell of pine tree and cinnamon, the cool breeze, the beautiful Christmas lights, parties, and gifts. Sure it hurts the pocket, but there is something about this season that gives you that warm fuzzy feeling and so you look forward to it, every year. When it finally comes you wish you could make last. But as all good things in life, Christmas ends, and you have another year ahead before you can experience it all over again. Don't you wish you could extend it? Actually, you could. There is one country where the citizens love it so much they celebrate it as soon as September begins. Here are some of the reasons why you should spend Christmas in the Philippines.
The longest Christmas celebration in the world
Nobody loves Christmas the way Filipinos do. As previously mentioned, residential areas and commercials alike get dressed up for Christmas as early as September. Christmas songs can already be heard playing in malls and from radio stations and even Christmas shopping begins few months before December.
Misa de Gallo
Photo Credit: Juan Katekista
The Philippine is predominantly Catholic and all year long Filipinos observe Catholic-related feasts and activities, one of which is Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi in Tagalog. It's a 9-day mass often held as early as 3:00 in the morning. It begins on the 16th of December and ends on the eve of Christmas, the 24th of December. It is one of the traditions that started under the Spanish rule. According to history, it was observed very early in the morning for the sake of the farmers whose work began before sunrise. The tradition lives on to this day. When simbang gabi begins, people go to the church in the wee hours to attend the mass. Many do this religiously because of the local belief that completing the 9-day mass will make their wish come true.
Bibingka, Puto-Bumbong, and other Christmas food
Photo Credit: Inquirer.net
There are delicious foods that you will only get to eat in the Philippines during the Christmas season, such as bibingka, a rice cake cooked on a coal-heated terracotta stove and the uniquely Filipino puto-bumbong, a purple-coloured rice cake cooked in bamboo tubes. Other Christmas food favourites to try are queso de bola (Edam cheese), a ball cheese covered in red wax; leche flan, a sweet and rich custard dessert, among others.
Noche Buena on Christmas Eve
Photo Credit: The Famous 8
On Christmas Eve, families gather in their homes for the Noche Buena. It's another Spanish tradition that Filipinos adopted and is still being greatly observed during Christmas season. After attending the mass, people return to their homes for the midnight dinner. It is not just a typical dinner, it's a feast. On the dining table are the Filipino Christmas favourites; lechon, pansit, fruit salad, Christmas ham, queso de bola, fruit cake, and other delectable Filipino dishes.
Filipinos are a generous bunch; they usually welcome other people in their homes for the Noche Buena so if you happen to be in the country during this time, don't be surprised to receive an invite to join in the Noche Buena.
Filipinos have a thing for giving gifts. In fact, it's the only nation in the world where people who go on trips are expected to bring home "pasalubong" or souvenirs for their family and friends. This culture is especially magnified during Christmas. Aside from the mandatory gifts for their godchildren, people engage in gift exchange usually held on company Christmas parties. Attendees come to the event bearing gifts, which will all be designated a number. Before the party ends, people would pick a random number and get the gift that bears the same digit.
Photo Credit: The Lucila Project
Probably the most iconic symbol of Christmas in the Philippines is the parol, a star-shaped lantern that they like to use as an ornament or decor on Christmas season. These lanterns are made of bamboo strips and Japanese paper and they come in different colours and sizes. If you want to see the most beautiful parols, head over to the province of Pampanga and attend the Giant Lantern Festival, known locally as Ligligan Parul. The festival is held annually in the city of San Fernando on a Saturday before Christmas Eve.
The most impressive and biggest parols are paraded during this festival. They are made by participants from different villages (barangay) of Pampanga. It is largely due to this festival that Pampanga is called the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.
Nativity dramatization or procession
Photo Credit: Balitang New York
One of the events that people look forward to is the reenactment of the nativity scene or a procession usually held in the villages. It is considered an honour to be cast in this activity. Religious or not, this is one Christmas spectacle that you may consider witnessing as the production is often grand and memorable.
Photo Credit: The Poc
Because Filipinos are big on gift giving, Christmas shopping is one of the most fun activities you can do during your visit. There is never a shortage of Christmas bazaars in the country with items offered at bargain prices. If you are feeling brave and don't mind the crowd, head over to Divisoria, the shopping mecca in the Manila. Here you are bound to take home more items even with a small budget compared to buying from bigger malls.
Photo Credit: Rappler
It is only in the Philippines where you could drink coffee, collect stamps, and have it exchanged for a planner. Many cafes have taken the yearly tradition of publishing encourage patrons to buy coffee.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marjorie Gavan is a writer by profession and by passion. She has a degree in B.S. Journalism and now has 15 years of writing and editing experience under her belt. She currently works as a knowledge specialist in an IT company in Quezon City, Philippines. She chronicles her travel adventures in her blog, Coffeehan.