People in the Philippines like to celebrate Christmas as long as possible! The performance of Christmas carols in stores can start in September!
Formal Christmas celebrations begin on December 16 when many people attend the first of the nine Masses before dawn or early in the morning. The last mass is Christmas day. The Christmas celebrations continue until the first Sunday of January, when the Epiphany or the Feast of the Magi is celebrated.
In the Philippines, the first Masses celebrated before Christmas are called “Misa de Gallo” or “Simbang Gabi” in Filipino.
The majority of Filipinos are Christians, and approximately 80% of the people are Catholics. It is the only Asian country with so many Christians. Because of this, Christmas is the most important party in the Philippines. December is actually one of the “coldest” months of the year in the Philippines. The Philippines only has two real stations, humid (June to October) and dry (April and May). December is one of the months between the wet and dry seasons.
The Christmas customs in the Philippines are a mixture of Western and Western Filipino traditions. (Christianity became widely known in the Philippines in the 1500s when missionaries from countries such as Portugal and Spain traveled to the area). Thus, people in the Philippines have Santa Claus (or ‘Santa Klaus’), Christmas trees, Christmas cards and Christmas carols from Western countries!
They also have their own Christmas traditions, such as the “parol”, which is a bamboo stick or a frame with a lighted lantern. It is traditionally made from strips of bamboo and colored Japanese paper or cellophane and represents the star that guided the Magi. It is the most popular Christmas decoration in the Philippines.
Christmas Eve is very important in the Philippines. Many people stay up all night until Christmas day! During the night of Christmas Eve, Christians go to church to hear the last ‘simbang gabi’ or the Christmas Eve mass. This is followed by a midnight banquet called Noche Buena.
The Noche Buena is a great open house, celebration with family, friends and neighbors who come to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Most homes would have several dishes designed and would normally include: suckling pig (roast pork), ham, fruit salad, rice cakes (bibingka and bumbong puto are traditional Christmas foods) and other sweets, steamed rice and many different types of drinks.
A very special person who helps people in the Philippines celebrate Christmas is Santa R-Kayma Klaws. He is a Filipino citizen, in his 70s and is of Irish descent. For more than 50 years, she has been spreading the holiday cheer among poor Filipino children by dressing up as Santa during charity missions and corporate events in poor areas of the Philippines. It has a ‘giant motor sled’ (an air-conditioned bus!) Which is used in many missions throughout the Philippines. Santa R-Kayma Klaws owns the only Philippine reindeer farm in the bush. Isarog in Barangay Sta. Cruz, Ocampo, Camarines Sur. The farm is open to the public free of charge.
The Philippines has eight main languages, that’s how Merry Christmas is said in some of them! In Tagalog, Happy / Merry Christmas is ‘Maligayang Pasko’; in Ilonggo it is ‘Malipayon nga Pascua’; in Sugbuhanon or Cebuano it is ‘Maayong Pasko’; in Bicolano they say ‘Maugmang Pasko’ in Pangalatok or Pangasinense they say ‘Maabig ya pasko’ or ‘Magayagan inkianac’; and in Warey Warey you say ‘Maupay Nga Pasko’.
In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines and thousands of people were left homeless, so many people can not celebrate Christmas as they used to. Many charities like Compassion are working in the Philippines to help people. Get more information about the Philippines on the Compassion website.