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The Philippines’ Christmas Tradition and How Filipinos Celebrate It

It’s finally time for the holidays! And what better way to spend it than in the Philippines?

But why the Philippines specifically? Well, why not? They literally have a famous saying that goes “It’s more fun in the Philippines!”

woman in front of a christmas tree It’s more fun in the Philippines!

This country celebrates Christmas the longest and isn’t shy about showing it. By the time the “Ber” months start (September, October, November and December), the streets will already be filled with decorations and Christmas lights while television commercials will have a holiday theme.

It doesn’t end after Christmas day either. It only ends after the Feast of the Three Kings on January’s first Sunday. So that’s basically 4 whole months and a few days of the holiday season.

If you choose to celebrate Christmas in the Philippines, here are a few traditions that you should know beforehand.

The Nine Days of Simbang Gabi

person lighting candles It's a holiday tradition in the Philippines to attend Simbang Gabi.

The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country. Every year without fail, the Philippines anticipates December 25th with a nine-day series of dawn masses. They call it Simbang Gabi, which if translated directly means Night Mass.

These masses happen from 3 am or 4:30 am until sunrise, depending on which of the two daily masses you choose. Because the “ber” months bring chilly mornings, it’s a challenge for churchgoers to complete the nine dawn masses. When the Simbang Gabi is over, it is customary to make a single wish.

And if you happen to complete all 9 days, then that wish will come true.

Churches will be flooding with people during the 9 days, and it’s always for Simbang Gabi. Normal Sunday masses don’t get that many people since they all flock to the dawn masses more during this time. So if you attend one, be prepared to bring your own chair because you will be sitting outside with the rest of the crowd who are also going to bring their own.

Attending Christmas Parties Left and Right

Since Filipinos are all about family and getting together with friends, Christmas is the time where they get to fully bond with each other and catch up as a Christmas tradition. Like every other occasion, they do it with lots of food and drinks, except this time the theme is Christmas and there are games plus presents involved.

In work places, it’s usually the time that employees lose the stiffness of being professionals. They let loose, do a lot of shenanigans with each other and laugh as they playfully make fun of each others’ voices in karaoke.

Filipinos are very friendly and jolly. They will have no trouble inviting anyone into their parties, even if they’re strangers. You will have no problem integrating into the whole thing even if you’re a foreigner. In fact, I’d dare to say that they will invite you with glee and excitement.

The Four Months Of Christmas

No other country celebrates Christmas as early as September. What makes Christmas in the Philippines unique is how they will celebrate it for as long as they are allowed to. The moment the clock strikes at 12 midnight on September 1, the holiday season will have already started.

There will already be decorations in the streets and malls. Prices will have a holiday theme tagged on them with the “discounts” that matches the holidays. Everyone will be pressured about December coming but at the same time they are excited about the Christmas bonus.

It’s a time where everyone is buzzing around with activity indeed.

And in the middle of that, from October 31 to November 2, are the days that the Philippines have Halloween. At least their version of it. Halloween to them is just that one event that precedes Undas. Undas, Día de Todos Los Santos(All Saints’ Day), basically means “honrar” or to honor.

It is when they honor the dead by going to cemeteries and offering their candles, flowers and prayers. There is also some food involved, some of which they even offer to the dead so in a way, this allows everyone to have dinner together.

And right after that they go straight to Christmas again, now that November is just a month before December.

Midnight Feast or Noche Buena

table filled with Christmas snacks Filipinos have the Noche Buena to look forward to on Christmas Eve.

Noche Buena is a Filipino holiday tradition in which the entire family meets for dinner and feasts on delectable Filipino cuisine. These foods would usually have lechon, pancit, ham, queso de bola and so many more. Spaghetti is almost always there on the table too, as well as some fruits and cake.

Some families even have mango-float ready in the fridge as is their family tradition. It’s never a celebration without this dessert. Plus, the kids really love it. The adults of today grew up eating it at every celebration and gathering, so of course, they will make sure to have that ready during Noche Buena too.

It’s always a Filipino tradition to have a certain favorite meal or dessert present during the Midnight Feast. If you celebrate your Christmas in the Philippines, you will get to taste all of these dishes and more.

Gift-Giving

Filipinos have their own way of giving gifts and it’s in the form of Manito-Manita. It’s basically like a Secret Santa thing but you just call the one giving you a present your Manito or your Manita and vice versa.

You will see this happen mostly in workplaces and schools. What happens is that a person will pick a name in the ballot and whoever’s name they get will be the person they have to give a gift to. But you don’t tell this person who you are, of course.

When the day where they all give their gifts arrive, everyone forms a circle and sings “I love my manito/manita, yes I do” and you walk around or maybe even dance as to tease who the gift is really for. When the song ends, you give the present to the intended person. You get their thanks and then that person has to go inside the circle and do what you just did.

And this continues until everyone has given and received their presents.

Celebrate Christmas the Filipino Way!

Change it up a notch! If you want to experience just how the Philippines goes about the holiday season, then book a ticket. It’ll be nice to be able to see how other people around the world celebrate Christmas.

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