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Christmas customs in the Philippines

Christmas

Christmas customs in the Philippines

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The Philippines, a dominantly Catholic country, has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season. Christmas carols are heard as early as September and it is only after Three Kings (first Sunday of the year) that the Christmas decorations are removed.

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Misa de Gallo (Dec. 16-24)

Traditionally, Christmas Day in the Philippines is ushered in by the nine-day dawn masses that start on December 16. Known as the Misa de Gallo (Rooster's Mass) in the traditional Spanish, and these masses are also more popularly known in Filipino as Simbang Gabi, or "Night Mass". The Simbang Gabi is the most important Filipino Christmas tradition.

These nine dawn Masses are also considered as a Novena by the Catholic faithful. This refers to the Roman Catholic practice of performing nine days of private or public devotion to obtain special graces.

In some parishes, the Simbang gabi begins as early as four in the morning. Going to mass this early for nine consecutive days is meant to show the churchgoer's devotion to his faith and heighten anticipation for the Nativity of the Lord. In traditional Filipino belief, however, completing the novena is also supposed to mean that God would grant the devotee's special wish or favor.

After hearing Mass, Filipino families partake of traditional Philippine Christmas delicacies, either during breakfast at home or immediately outside the church, where they are sold. Vendors offer a wealth of native delicacies, including bibingka (rice and egg based cake, cooked using coals on top and under), puto bumbong (a purple sticky rice delicacy which is steamed in wooden tubes, with brown sugar and coconut shavings as condiments), salabat (hot ginger tea) and tsokolate (thick Spanish cocoa).

Christmas Eve

For Filipinos, Christmas Eve on December 24 is the much-anticipated Noche Buena -- the traditional Christmas Eve feast after the midnight mass. Family members dine together around 12 midnight on traditional Noche Buena fare, which includes: queso de bola (Span. literally "ball of cheese"; edam cheese), "Tsokolate" (hot chocolate drink) and hamon (Christmas ham), and some would open presents at this time.

In different provinces and schools throughout the Philippines, Catholic devotees also reenact the journey of Joseph and the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary in search of lodging for the soon-to-be born Jesus Christ. This is the traditional Panunuluyan, also called Pananawagan and Pananapatan.

This street pageant is performed after dark on Christmas Eve, with the actors portraying Joseph and Mary going to pre-designated houses. They chant traditional songs which are meant to wake up the owner of the house as they ask for lodging, but are turned away by the owners, also in song. Finally, Joseph and Mary make their way to the parish church where a simulated manger has been set up. The birth of Jesus is celebrated at midnight with the Misa de Gallo, together with hallelujahs and Christmas carols.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day in The Philippines is primarily a family affair. Prior to the ticking of 12 midnight on 25 December, Misa de Aguinaldo is being celebrated. It is usually attended by the whole family. Misa de Aguinaldo is the Holy Mass celebrated to signify the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines' main means of celebrating Jesus Christ's birth.

Misa de Aguinaldo is also celebrated at dawn or in the morning immediately after sunrise before 10 AM, this schedule is preferred by Filipinos who choose to celebrate Christmas Eve with a night-long celebration of Noche Buena.

Preferably in the morning, Filipino families visit members of the extended family, notably the elders in order to give their respect. This custom has been an age-old tradition in the Philippines called Pagmamano, this is done by touching one's forehead to the elder's hand saying Mano Po. The elder then blesses the person who payed respect. Aguinaldo or money in the form of crisp, fresh-from-the-bank bills is given after the Pagmamano, most usually to younger children. Although traditional in the country, some families no longer practice it.

A Christmas Lunch usually follows after the Pagmamano. The lunch is heavily depended upon the finances of the family. Financially stable families tend to prepare grand and glorious feasts that consist of Jamon de Bola, Queso de Bola, Lechon and other Filipino delicacies. Some economically less-fortunate families choose to cook simple meals, nevertheless still special. When the family is settled after the lunch, the exchange of gifts is usually done. Godparents are expected to give gifts or Aguinaldo to their godchildren.

When nightime falls, members of the family usually take part in family talks while listening to favorite Christmas carols. Some may opt to have a glorious Christmas Feast for dinner.

Niños Inocentes

Niños Inocentes is commemorated on December 28 as Holy Innocents' Day or Childermas in other countries. The innocents referred to are the children who were massacred by order of Herod, who was seeking the death of the newborn Messiah.

New Year's Eve (Dec. 31)

On New Year's Eve ("Bisperas ng Bagong taon"), Filipino families gather for the Media Noche or midnight meal – a feast that is also supposed to symbolize their hopes for a prosperous New Year. In spite of the yearly ban on firecrackers, many Filipinos in the Philippines still see these as the traditional means to greet the New Year. The loud noises and sounds of merrymaking are not only meant to celebrate the coming of the New Year but are also supposed to drive away bad spirits. Safer methods of merrymaking include banging on pots and pans and blowing on car horns. Folk beliefs also include encouraging children to jump at the stroke of midnight so that they would grow up tall, displaying circular fruit and wearing clothes with dots and other circular designs to symbolize money, eating twelve grapes at 12 midnight for good luck in the twelve months of the year, and opening windows and doors during the first day of the New Year to let in the good luck.

Three Kings (First Sunday of the year)

Christmas officially ends on the Feast of the Three Kings (Tres Reyes or Tatlong Hari in Tagalog), also known as the Feast of the Epiphany. The Feast of the Three Kings was traditionally commemorated on Jan. 6 but is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the New Year. Some children leave their shoes out, so that the Three Kings would leave behind gifts like candy or money inside. Jan. 6 is also known in other countries as Twelfth Night, and the "Twelve Days of Christmas" referred to in the Christmas carol are the twelve days between Christmas Day (December 25) and the coming of the Three Kings (January 6).

Decorations

The Filipino Christmas would not be complete without the traditional Philippine Christmas symbols and decorations. Christmas lights are strung about in festoons, as the tail of the Star of Bethlehem in Belens, in shapes like stars, Christmas trees, angels, and in a large variety of other ways, even going as far as draping the whole outside of the house in lights. Aside from Western decorations like Santa Claus, Christmas trees, tinsel, etc, the Philippines has its own ways of showing that it is the holidays.

Parol

Though not strictly a custom, every Christmas season, Filipino homes and buildings are adorned with beautiful star lanterns, called parol (Span. farol, meaning lantern or lamp-Merriam Webster Spanish- English English- Spanish Dictionary). The earliest parols were traditionally made from simple materials like bamboo sticks, Japanese rice paper (known as "papel de Hapon") or crepe paper, and a candle or coconut oil-lamp for illumination; although the present day parol can take many different shapes and forms. The parol is also traditionally made of lacquered paper and bamboo, but others are made of cellophane, plastic, rope, capiz shell and a wide variety of materials. Making parols is a folk craft, and most Filipino kids have tried their hand at making a parol at one time or another, maybe as a school project or otherwise. The most basic parol can be easily constructed with just ten bamboo sticks, paper, and glue. These lanterns represent the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Magi, also known as the Three Wise Men or Three Kings (Tatlong Hari in Tagalog). Parols are to Filipinos as Christmas trees are to Westerners- an iconic symbol of the holiday.

Belen

Another traditional Filipino Christmas symbol is the belen -- a creche or tableau representing the Nativity scene. It depicts the infant Jesus Christ in the manger, surrounded by his parents, shepherds, their flock and the Magi Belens can be seen in homes, churches, schools and even office buildings. The ones on office buildings can be extravagant, using different materials for the figures and using Christmas lights, parols, and painted background scenery. A notable outdoors belen in Manila is the one that used to be at the COD building in Cubao, Quezon City. In 2003, the belen was transferred to the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan when the COD building closed down. This belen is a lights and sounds presentation, the story being narrated over speakers set up and most probably using automatons to make the figures move up and down, or turn, etc. Each year, the company owning it changes the theme, with variations such as a fairground story, and Santa Claus' journey. Construction for this year's show started around September 1.

Caroling

In the Philippines, children also celebrate Christmas with the traditional Christmas caroling --going from house to house singing Christmas carols. Makeshift instruments include tambourines made with tansans (aluminum bottle caps) strung on a piece of wire. With the traditional chant of "Namamasko po!", these carolers wait expectantly for the owner of the house to reward them with coins. After being rewarded, the carolers thank the owner by singing "Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo (you are so kind), thank you!"

An example of a carol sung is "Sa may bahay ang aming bati" (from Jim Ayson’s Maligayang Pasko! Home Page.):

 Sa maybahay ang aming bati
 Merry Christmas na maluwalhati!
 Ang pag-ibig pag siyang naghari
 Araw-araw ay magiging Paskong lagi!
  Chorus:
 Ang sanhi po ng pagparito,
 Hihingi po ng aginaldo.
 Kung sakali't kami'y perhuwisyo
 Pasensya na kayo pagka't kami'y namamasko!

Repeat all

Translation: At this house, our greeting is a glorious "Merry Christmas"! If Love reigns, everyday will be Christmas! The reason why we came here is to ask for gifts. If we're a bother, sorry, but were soliciting for gifts! ("Namamasko" has no specific translation.)

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Christmas Guide, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.


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