The Philippines boasts many variations of expats from all over the world and all slightly celebrate the Christmas experience differently. If you have a new home in the Philippines what would you expect to see from your Pinoy neighbors?
Christmas in the Philippines is a mixture of Western and native Filipino traditions. Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, sending Christmas cards, and singing carols have all been inherited from the cultures of the West. However, these have all been adapted to fit the nature and personality of the Filipino people.
Christmas Eve in the Philippines is one of the traditions most families celebrate. It is a night without sleep and a continuous celebration moving right into Christmas Day. As December 24th dawns, the last Mass of Simbang Gabi is attended; then preparation begins for Noche Buena, which is a family feast that takes place after midnight.
The Noche Buena is very much like an open house celebration. Family, friends, relatives, and neighbors drop by to wish every family member “Maligayang Pasko” (Merry Christmas). Food is in abundance, often served in buffet style. Guests or visitors partake of the food prepared by the host family (even though they are already full or bloated!). Among the typical foods prepared in the Philippines during Christmas are: lechon (roasted pig), pancit, barbecue, rice, adobo, cakes (Western and native rice cakes), lumpia, etc. There is also an abundance of San Miguel beer, wine, and liquor, which makes the celebration of Christmas indeed intoxicating!
The streets are well lit and are full of activities. The children run in and out of the house to play, to eat, and to play again. The Christmas Eve gathering provides an opportunity for a reunion of immediate and distant family members. Some families may choose to exchange gifts at this time; others wait until Christmas day.
In general, the center of a family’s Christmas gathering is always the lola, the endearing term used for a family matriarch or grandmother, who is deeply respected, highly revered, and always present. Filipinos remember how their lola had their children form a line and step up to receive a small gift of some coins. The older the child, the more coins he or she receives.
Some families have a talent show during Christmas Eve celebration. Children are asked to perform. One might sing a Christmas song, others might play a musical instrument, or others may recite a poem or do a dance. The celebration continues until about 6 o’clock in the morning. Those who cannot attend Mass the night before will go to the morning Mass on Christmas day.
Christmas day is a popular day for children to visit their uncles, aunts, godmothers, and godfathers. At each home they are presented with a gift, usually candy, money, or a small toy. Food and drinks are also offered at each stop. It is a day of family closeness, and everyone wishes good cheer and glad tidings.
Christmas Eve is very important in the Philippines. Many people stay awake all night into Christmas day! During Christmas Eve evening, Christians go to church to hear the last ‘simbang gabi’ or the Christmas Eve mass. This is followed by a midnight feast, called Noche Buena.
The Noche Buena is a big, open house, celebration with family, friends and neighbors dropping in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Most households would have several dishes laid out and would normally include: lechon (roasted pig), ham, fruit salad, rice cakes (bibingka and puto bumbong are traditional Christmas foods) and other sweets, steamed rice, and many different types of drinks.
The Philippines has eight major languages, here’s how to say Merry Christmas in some of them! In Tagalog, Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Maligayang Pasko’; in Ilonggo it’s ‘Malipayon nga Pascua’; in Sugbuhanon or Cebuano it’s ‘Maayong Pasko’; in Bicolano they say ‘Maugmang Pasko’ and in Pangalatok or Pangasinense they say ‘Maabig ya pasko’ or ‘Magayagan inkianac’.Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.
In 2013 the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan and thousands of people were made homeless, so lots of people can’t celebrate Christmas like they used to.