Christmas in the Philippines
Being one of the two Catholic countries in Asia, the Philippines celebrates Christmas like no other country in the region. Christmas actually starts here in September and lasts until the Feast of Epiphany which is in January. With this extraordinarily long Christmas season there are numerous events around the country which the Christmas loving traveller can witness.
Photo by Scott Allford
I had been told about Christmas in the Philippines being the longest in the world, however I was not able to comprehend how big Christmas is in this country until September 2008. Walking through the malls of Manila or down the main roads of the different cities, Christmas was everywhere. In a tropical country with a dearth of pine trees and no snow it was quite strange to be sitting in Starbucks drinking a coffee in early September to the sounds of Frosty the Snowman, I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, or Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. I was recently travelling in Batanes in what was possibly the only van on Sabtang Island with Christmas tunes playing as well. The song switched from Jingle Bells to a reggae sounding guy saying “Christmas in the Philippines.” Then it went into “Shalalalala, Shalala in the morning.” And even more bizarre is that in October all of the Christmas decorations come down for a week while the Halloween ones go up. But right after Halloween everything goes back to Christmas.
If you’re in Manila around Christmas you can enjoy all of the lights and decorations around the city. Or for the more spiritually inclined there are an abundance of masses to attend. Starting on December 16th is the Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) which last for nine days and start as early as 4am. Usually after these masses, Filipinos sit down to a big breakfast and there are also numerous vendors outside churches selling foods such as bibingka (rice flour and egg-based cake, cooked using coal burners on top of and under the pastry), putò bumbóng (a purple, sticky rice delicacy steamed in bamboo tubes, with brown sugar and shredded dried coconut meat served as condiments), salabát (hot ginger tea) and tsokoláte (thick Spanish cocoa).
On Christmas Day (Noche Buena), family, friends and neighbours will drop by houses to wish families “Maligayang Pasko” (Merry Christmas). And there is never a shortage of delicious Filipino foods for all of the guests. I think that I ate six full meals last Christmas.
For other Christmas sights, you can make your way out to UP Diliman for the annual UP lantern Parade. Held on the last day of classes before the Christmas break, this parade started back in 1922 and is a procession of large Christmas floats around the campus. There are now parades at other UP campuses but the one in Diliman is the original and the biggest.
Photo by ianong
Heading north of Manila you can see the Giant Lanterns in San Fernando, Pampanga. This is held every year on the Saturday before Christmas Eve with complex light displays and competitions. At 20 feet across and containing 3,500 – 5,000 light bulbs, the giant lanterns of San Fernando are really a sight to behold. Also in San Fernando is the Paskuhan Village (Hilaga Village), which celebrates everything about Christmas. With the lanterns and the Christmas village, San Fernando has become the Christmas capital of the Philippines.
Photo by Scott Allford
Down in the Visayas on the Island of Panay is the town of New Washington. Apart from being home to the famous Cardinal Sin, this town also has the Sampaguita Gardens and Jojo’s Christmas Cottage where Christmas is celebrated 365 days a year. Inside is everything about Christmas, including little Christmas dolls from around the world, little Christmas villages, and signs saying Merry Christmas in every language. You can also check out the 1918 Model T Ford parked next to the cottage.
Lastly, right next to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao is the Christmas Capital of Mindanao. In Tangub City, Misamis Occidental the whole city is covered in Christmas lights and symbols, and nativity scenes abound. This Christmas festival has actually made Tangub City one of the most visited destinations in the Philippines and is definitely worth a look.
Across this vast archipelago Christmas is celebrated in churches, homes and grand parades and each offers its own interesting insight into Filipino culture. And it is during this season that the infamous friendly nature of the Filipino people overflows with joyousness so it’s a great time to travel the country and meet the locals.
Scott M. Allford has lived and worked in Australia and South Korea and has travelled extensively throughout Asia- Mongolia, China, Tibet, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and Japan – fell in love with the Philippines and decided to allocate at least two years to comprehensively cover the country.
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