We know it's Christmas when everything in the surrounding just turns a lot lovelier and sparklier. But what if there's a country that celebrates the best season of the year for a surprising six months? Yes, you've read it precisely. As early as September and as late as February, the local Filipinos take their time in observing the yuletide through their preparation, traditions, and faith. As a first-time visitor in the Philippines, let's take a look at what you can expect in a Filipino Christmas celebration?
- Christmas Decorations – They are colorful and bright especially when the evening strikes. But the star of any Christmas decorations in the Philippines is its parol. A parol is a star-shaped lantern traditionally made out of bamboo sticks and paper. They sometimes have light bulbs inside to give a beautiful illumination at night.
- Simbang Gabi – As a country with a huge number of Christians particularly Catholics, it is without a doubt that most of the citizens are religious if not spiritual. Part of their Christian devotion is attending a daily dawn mass for nine consecutive days. Simbang Gabi starts on the 16th of December and ends on the 24th. The last mass is called Misa de Gallo(occurs on Christmas Eve). One of the best things in Simbang Gabi is that you get to buy and taste those traditional Filipino delicacies like bibingka and puto bumbong(both are made out of steamed rice flour).
- Christmas Carols – Christmas songs bring us closer to the essence of the yuletide. But listening to the season's music couldn't get better when performed live in front of your sweet home. Filipino carolers come in different groups. There are kids, young people, adults, or mixed carolers. They are mainly composed of singers, guitarists, and other local instrumentalists. The most common instrument used by kids carolers is made out of “tansan” or bottled-caps. These tansan are flattened out and stacked up in an iron wire so as to produced noise like cymbals.
- Noche Buena – The Christmas Eve or Noche Buena is one of the most important dinners for Filipinos. Family, relatives, and friends gather together to partake in traditional Filipino dishes as well as each other's company. The highlight of the dishes is Lechon, Jamon, and queso de bola aside from more local dishes. It is expected that foods are placed on a long table for a buffet set up. Everyone needs to stay awake as Noche Buena is done at midnight. Parlor games are also a common activity to entertain children while waiting for dinner.
- Media Noche – The New Year's Eve or Media Noche is another extravagant feast next to Noche Buena. It's also one big family-friends gathering where they can hope and wish for another year of prosperity. The foods served on the table during this celebration can be pretty the same as with Noche Buena(with sometimes the exception of Jamon and queso de bola). The main difference though is the collection of twelve different round fruits properly arranged on the table. They are supposed to represent money, good health, and happiness for the following year to come. When the clock hits 12 midnight, firecrackers, fireworks, and other forms of noisemakers such as pans or torotot(horns usually made of plastics) fill the air and sky. Many people go out of the street to watch this big event. Although precautions need to be taken to avoid accidents from stray firecrackers.
- Exchanging of Gifts – Filipinos are naturally kind-hearted. They love to give simple little things of what they have in order to share it with everyone. The Exchanging of Gifts or also known as Monito – Monita is a common practice of Filipinos among their friends, colleagues, and family members. The idea of this activity is that every participant brings his or her own wrapped gift(with an already agreed gift-cost). They can draw lots either way in advance or during the exchanging of gifts to decide where to give their gifts to. For family members, it is usually done during the Noche Buena before dinner. All the gifts are placed under the lighted Christmas tree.