When you think of Christmas celebrations, the Philippines has by far the longest season of celebrating the holiday. For most countries that celebrate Christmas, it starts in December. For the Filipinos, Christmas starts as early as September and ends mid to late January of the following year.
You can see homes already decorated as early as September (our house included). You can see houses, buildings, and streets with Christmas lights shining bright. Christmas carols on the radio, TV, at shopping malls, and on various social media platforms.
Here are a few examples of the Filipino Christmas traditions:
The Nativity Scene or ‘Belen’ as we call it, is a staple to Filipino decorations. This is composed of baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Kings, and barn animals. You can see them in public places like malls and building lobbies.
Simbang Gabi (Misa de Gallo) means evening mass. Filipinos attend mass either late at night or at the early hours of the morning, 9 days before Christmas. Many people try to complete all 9 days, both as a religious practice and because they believe that completing all 9 masses can grant you a wish.
Christmas caroling for the Filipinos means singing from house to house. This is usually accompanied by recycled or DIYed instruments and short Christmas carols. For some, the Christmas caroling starts December 1st, while for others, they start December 16th, the first day of the evening mass.
Most people celebrate Christmas dinner either on Christmas eve or Christmas night. But for the Filipinos, we often wake up at midnight and welcome Christmas day with Noche Buena. Because most of the Filipinos come home during the holidays, this is one of the Christmas traditions that all look forward to.
Lastly, Filipino Christmas tradition is the Parol or Christmas Lanterns. The star represents the star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Kings to the manger of baby Jesus. It also symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness and the goodwill of every Filipino during the Christmas season.
This is a heartwarming ad from Disney that highlights Filipino values and traditions.
This year, it’s different. Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, several parts of the Philippines have experienced three strong storms this last quarter alone. Several natural disasters have also struck the country throughout the year, but I know this won’t stop the Filipinos from celebrating Christmas.
Despite the challenges of 2020, Filipinos have found a way to connect and celebrate Christmas with their loved ones.
While we may not be able to watch holiday displays and light shows from our neighborhood park, or do late-night shopping at Christmas bazaars, or have large family gatherings and reunions because of travel restrictions, this makes the Christmas celebration more meaningful.
We are thankful for the technological advancements that we have today.
We can still celebrate and have Christmas parties virtually. Zoom, Facebook Messenger, Google Meet, or any video-calling platform makes it possible for us to connect with our families despite the distance.
Attending the evening mass is also possible, thanks to television stations that will air Simbang Gabi masses.
This year may be challenging for the Filipinos, but this will not get in the way of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, which represents hope and love in our lives.
Kristine Rosales has been part of the Social Media team for the Ministry since July 2019. She is based in Batangas, Philippines.