Christmas in the Philippines is celebrated for a lot longer than it is in the West; we think Christmas music starts playing around town early for us, but some of the shops in the Philippines begin to play Christmas music as early as September!
The 16th of December is when the celebrations formally begin; during this time much of the population go to the first of nine early morning masses; called ‘Misa de Gallo’, or ‘Simbang Gabi’ in Filipino.
The last of these masses being on the day of Christmas, although these celebrations continue until Epiphany is celebrated; which is on the first Sunday occurring in January).
Epiphany is also referred to as the Feast of the Three Kings.
A majority of the Filipino population is Christian, and about 80% being Catholic; it is the highest Christian population among the Asian countries.
Similar to Christians in other countries, this is why Christmas is such an important holiday to them.
Although the Philippines is a relatively hot and humid country, December is considered to be a cooler month for them; the country has two main seasons: wet (which lasts from June to October) and dry (April and May).
December is a nice change for the people of the Philippines, as it is one of the only months that is different, and does not classify as one of the wet or dry months.
Christmas traditions in this Asian country are a fantastic mix of customs that may be found in the West and Filipino traditions.
Missionaries came from other countries such as Portugal and Spain and traveled to the Philippines,
Christianity became more widely known. We recognize that this happened in the 1500’s; as such, Christianity is not a new notion to the Philippines.
In addition to traditions that have been adapted from Western countries, they have their own traditions as well.
For instance, they will create a star from bamboo that is said to represent the star that guided the Wise Men to Jesus in the Bible.
Bamboo strips are used to make the star, and it also adorns colored Japanese paper or cellophane paper; this highly popular star is a staple decoration for any Christian in the Philippines.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Christmas Eve is also a very important and special day for the people of the Philippines. In fact, a lot of people will stay up all night!
During the evening on Christmas Eve, Christians will go to church for Christmas Eve mass, followed by a midnight feast, referred to as ‘Noche Buena’.
This midnight feast is a huge celebration wherein everyone celebrating holds an ‘open door policy’; meaning that it is understood that any friends and family are more than welcome to come and celebrate.
In most households, you would find several main entrees and side dishes laid out across a table, similar to a buffet or pot-luck.
These dishes can include roasted pig, ham, fruit salad, rice cakes and other treats, steamed rice, and a wide assortment of drinks.
A very special person who helps the Philippians celebrate Christmas is Saint R-Kayma Klaws.
While he is a Filipino citizen, he is also of Irish descent, and generally in his 70’s. He can be seen dressing up as Santa Claus during charity missions and corporate events in poor areas for over 50 years; spreading cheer.
He has a huge air-conditioned bus, referred to as a ‘giant motor sleigh’. There are eight major languages in the Philippines, and citizens will enjoy saying Merry Christmas in all of them!
Although since the Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, celebrations have not been as grand as they were in the past.
This is due to the fact that this natural disaster displaced a lot of families, who are now homeless.
There are currently charities such as Compassion that are aiding in the relief efforts for the Filipino people affected by this natural disaster.
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’ in Pangalatok or Pangasinense they say ‘Maabig ya pasko’ or ‘Magayagan inkianac’; and in Warey Warey you say ‘Maupay Nga Pasko’. It is interesting to know how people wish Happy or Merry Christmas in other languages.
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Main Points About Christmas in the Philippines
- The people of the Philippines begin to get into the Christmas spirit as early as September.
- The Christmas celebrations officially begin on the 16th of December. Many locals attend early morning masses up until Christmas Eve.
- Bamboo strip, colored Japanese papers, lights, and cellophane are the most common forms of Christmas decorations in the Philippines.
- On Christmas eve, people are awake all day until Christmas day. Many Christian attend the Christmas eve mass (Simbang gabi) after which it is the traditional Christmas feast (Noche Buena).
- Christmas day is primarily a family day. Family members exchange presents and spend the rest of the day together.
The Philippines is the only Asian country with as many Christians as 80 %, mostly Catholic. So here Christmas is the most important holiday and the masses.
Misa de Gallo or ”Simbang Gabi” in Filipino, are held before Christmas.
Except for the western Christmas traditions, the Philippines have their own, such as the parol, a bamboo pole or frame which has a star lantern on it, ass one of their main Christmas decorations.
Word Cloud for Christmas in the Philippines
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Christmas in the Philippines. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.
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Chara Yadav holds MBA in Finance. Her goal is to simplify finance-related topics. She has worked in finance for about 25 years. She has held multiple finance and banking classes for business schools and communities. Read more at her bio page.