Text and Images by Ronald de Jong
November 26, 2016
One of the most awaited celebration in the Philippines and also the most remarkable one is beyond doubt Christmas, it is the world's longest festive Christmas season. Starting in the first week of November, lasting until Epiphany, or Three Kings (Tatlong Hari) and sometimes extended to the third Sunday of January, a feast in honor of the Santo Niño.
In fact, the last four months of the year are considered Christmas months; in this period radio stations are filling the air with the sound of Noel. Even as early in September, restaurants and offices are decorated with Christmas trees, colourful lights and sparkling angels. Shopping malls are transformed into giant flea markets, also known as tiangge, here on can buy cheap gifts and even haggle down the price to a real bargain.
December 23 is usually the most popular shopping day; the well-stocked stores can expect brisk business because many people will spend their Christmas bonus. Filipinos, young and old, already start decorating their homes and string up lights early to take time to prepare for this unique annual occasion. A beloved tradition is the hanging of lanterns in front of the house; almost every home is decorated with a Parol, a multi-coloured, 5-pointed lantern representing the Star of Bethlehem. In the early days the lanterns were used to light the paths of worshippers going to church. Underprivileged families are beautifying their dwellings with self-made garnish made from cellophane, tinfoil, bamboo and coloured paper. People who are better off brighten up their homesteads with electrical lights, mini singing Santa’s, imitation mistletoes and plastic Christmas trees.
Christmas in the Philippines is a time of giving, everybody is buying big or small gifts for their loved ones, and it is a time for communities and families to get together. It is that time of the year when overseas workers and migrants travel back to their homeland and others travel to the provinces to spend the holidays with their immediate and distant relatives. Even for those who have to stay abroad, the month of December will always bring a special and warm feeling.
The Yuletide Season is also a time of tradition, one of those is Noche Buena, dinner with the whole family and friends after the midnight mass, enjoying the hamon, Lechon, quezo de bola and native sweets like bibingka (rice cake), ube halaya (dessert made out of purple yam mixed with milk) and Puto bumbong (a dish made from purpled-coloured ground rice cooked in bamboo tubes). But sweets like Cassava Cake, Suman and, Kutchinta are gaining popularity as well. This Christmas dinner is also a thanksgiving for the blessings of the year gone by and a prayerful celebration for a thriving year to come. Christmas in the Philippines is generally a family affair and being together is always highly appreciated. At Christmas morning everybody will wear their best clothes when they are visiting their relatives, for many children it will be an exciting moment, they will receive their pamasko, a gift from their Godparents. It is customary for Filipino children to pay their respect by kissing or bringing the hand of the elder person to their forehead ("Pagmamáno"), in return the children ("ina anak") are being blessed.
The last week of January marks the closing of the Christmas season; fortunately the people in the Philippines are celebrating numerous festivals all year round. After the four months long nativity commemoration there are still eight more months to enjoy the many local fiestas, national, religious, cultural and tribal celebrations, all of them filled with dancing, music and plenty of food. No matter the time of year or the occasion, Filipinos will always find ways to take pleasure in the good things in life, not only at Christmas.
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