You might probably wonder why I am writing a blog about Christmas when it’s only September. That’s because, in the Philippines, this time of the year is when we say the start of the most wonderful time of the year.
I have some European and American friends that find it really funny when we say that we start celebrating Christmas by September. Some of them thought I was kidding but to be vulnerably honest, I am not. Jose-Mari Chan’s famous meme circulating the internet can attest to that.
While on a Christmas dinner by the creek last year in Dubai, I was telling my Indian colleague about how we celebrate Christmases in the Philippines.
So to help you picture out everything, here are some things that happen on September 1st in the Philippines EVERY YEAR:
On the morning of the first day of September, the first thing that you’ll notice when you open the television and/or the radio is the tune of jingle bells and the Christmas greeting of whoever host it is.
Not to mention when you check your Facebook feed, it would be totally weird if you hadn’t seen any relative post about the holiday that is three months away.
Most likely, the countdown for Christmas will begin to be televised via national news even if it’s more than 100 days, to begin with.
And when you go to malls? Michael Bublé’s Holly Jolly Christmas will play numerous times in the background.
Department stores will start displaying and selling fantastic Christmas trees. And with this, Christmas gift wrapping papers and cards are all around.
With some of the above things that happened every year just when the ‘ber’ months hit the calendar, it’s easy to point out where you could find the most Christmas spirit on earth. Although it’s still hard to be certain, if there’s a global competition about this, then most likely the Philippines will be in a sure spot on the finals.
While it is not the White Christmas that everyone’s picturing out, holidays in the Philippines consist of flip flops and a light jacket. Sure, it’s not that cold compared to the countries blessed with snow, but Filipinos loved to be embraced by the cool and dry northeast wind coming from Siberia and China.
Here are some of the things that I love about Christmases in the Philippines:
Simbang Gabi (or night mass) has always been a popular tradition during Christmas in the Philippines that dates back in the early days of Spanish rule over the country. These nightly celebrations are held from 16th to the 24th of December. Simbang gabi can occur at different times from as early as 3:00 in the morning to the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise. They say that your wish, whatever it is, will come true when you complete attending the nine masses. Moreover, it is the dedication of waking up early that makes Simbang Gabi extra special. Not to mention the rice cakes (puto bumbong and bibingka) being sold anywhere!
It’s our ‘Secret Santa’ or ‘Kris Kringle’ – and as we all know it is an activity of exchanging gifts in the Philippines during the Christmas season. And monito monita can start as early as November. It could happen every week. Or can be as frequent as every day when the Simbang Gabi starts. It can be done in a lot of ways: participants can post their wish list or they can draw a name and keep it as a secret until revelation day. Also, participants can choose a theme each week too! From something soft to something wet. The list is endless.
Parol and Caroling
Firstly, parols are the Philippines’ very own Christmas holy tradition. It is a bamboo pole or frame with a lighted star lantern on it. If you’ve watched Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray’s national costume, it’s very similar to the big thing that was on her back! Very popular in the Philippines.
Secondly, Caroling is literally Christmas Carols. Now I think every Filipino kid had a phase of doing this! This is a big part of the tradition. Once Simbang Gabi starts, children would go around the neighborhood singing Christmas songs while hopping house to house. Musical instruments are from recycled materials, too! So just imagine what it looks like outside every evening with all the Christmas lights and people singing around!
Christmas eve is VERY important in the Philippines. On December 24th, malls and shops closes early. People come home early and many people will stay awake all night into Christmas day. The typical Christmas eve would be, people coming to church for the evening mass, with doubled amount of Christmas carols outside. All Christmas lights are on and everyone is just waiting for the midnight feast.
That is to say, Noche Buena is big. It is an open house celebration with family, friends, and neighbors dropping in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. A typical Noche Buena includes: lechon or roasted pig, ham, fruit salad, bibingka and puto bumbong (rice cakes), and of course, steamed rice. Not to mention the soft drinks and all kinds of liquor that people have been saving for this eve.
Although for a Christmas Baby that I am, the Christmas season is the loneliest season of my year. I’m starting to feel melancholic towards December and I’m hoping and wishing I’d be happy this year. I’d love to talk more about it but I think that would be for another lonely blog post. But honestly, I’m very excited to be spending my birthday and Christmas here in the Philippines this year!
And while there are plenty more of other things that I could list down, Christmas in the Philippines is indeed one of the best. So yes, Christmas is totally merry in this part of the world! Because the Christmas Spirit illuminates the soul of the Filipino people; bringing love, laughter, hope, and good cheer. Not just on December 25h, but from September to January of the following year.
What’s your favorite thing about Christmas?
Featured Photo by Jeswin Thomas