Christmas in the Philippines

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Paról (Christmas lanterns) being sold during the Christmas season in the Philippines. The paról is one of the most iconic and beloved symbols of the holiday.

Christmas in the Philippines (Filipino: Pasko sa Pilipinas), one of two predominantly Christian countries in Asia (the other one being East Timor), is one of the biggest holidays in the archipelago. The country has earned the distinction of celebrating the world's longest Christmas season,[1] with Christmas carols heard as early as September and lasting variously until either Epiphany, the Feast of the Black Nazarene on 9 January, or the Feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú on the third Sunday of January. The official observance by the Church in the Philippines is from the beginning of the Simbang Gabi on 16 December until the Feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday of the year.


The various ethnic groups in the Philippines each observe different Christmas traditions, and the following are generally common.

Christmas parties[edit]

In urban areas like Metro Manila, many offices organise Christmas parties. These are usually held during the second week of December, or right before schools and universities go on holiday. Common activities include Monito/Monita (Kris Kringle), musical or theatrical performances and parlor games. Food is provided either through potluck, or via a pool of contributions to buy food. Some have fireworks displays.

Simbang Gabi/Misa de Gallo[edit]

Simbang Gabi (English: Night Mass; Spanish: Misa de Gallo, "Rooster's Mass") is a novena of dawn Masses from 16 December to Christmas Eve. The Simbang Gabi is practised mainly by Catholic and Aglipayans, with some Evangelical Christian and independent Protestant churches having adopted the practise of having pre-Christmas dawn services. Attending the Masses is meant to show devotion to God and heightened anticipation for Christ's birth, and folk belief holds that God grants the special wish of a devotee that hears all nine Masses.

Morning observance of Simbang Gabi begins as early as 03:00 PST, while in some parishes, anticipated Masses begin the previous evening at 20:00 PST. After hearing Mass, Catholic families buy traditional Filipino holiday fare for breakfast outside the church and eat it either within the church precincts or at home. Vendors offer many native delicacies, including bibingka (rice flour and egg-based cake, cooked using coal burners above and under); putò bumbóng (a purple, sticky rice delicacy steamed in bamboo tubes, buttered then sprinkled with brown sugar and shredded dried coconut meat). Drinks include coffee, salabát (a ginger infusion) and tsokoláte (thick, Spanish-style hot chocolate). Some Aglipayan churches invite the congregation to partake of the "paínit" (literally, "heater"), a post-Mass snack of mostly rice pastries served with coffee or cocoa at the house of the Mass sponsor.

Christmas Eve[edit]

For Filipinos, Christmas Eve ("Bisperas ng Pasko") on 24 December is celebrated with the Midnight Mass, and the traditional Noche Buena feast. Family members dine together at around midnight on traditional yuletide fare, which includes: queso de bola (Spanish: "ball of cheese", which is edam cheese) sealed with red wax; tsokoláte, pasta, fruit salad, pandesal, relleno and hamón (Christmas ham). Some families would also open presents at this time.


In different provinces and schools, the journey of Joseph and the pregnant Virgin Mary in search of lodging is re-enacted. The pageant, traditionally called the "Panunulúyan", "Pananawágan", or "Pananapátan", is modelled after the Spanish Las Posadas.

The Panunulúyan is performed after dark, with the actors portraying Joseph and the Virgin Mary going to pre-designated houses. They perform a chant meant to rouse the "owners of the house" (also actors) to request for lodging. The owners then cruelly turn them away, sometimes also in song, saying that their house is already filled with other guests. Finally, Joseph and Mary make their way to the parish church where a replica of the stable has been set up. The birth of Jesus is celebrated at midnight with the Misa de Gallo.

Christmas Day[edit]

Christmas Day in The Philippines is primarily a family affair. The Misa de Aguinaldo is celebrated on December 25 and is usually attended by the whole family. It is the main means of celebrating Jesus Christ's birth for Catholics and Aglipayans.

The Misa de Aguinaldo is often celebrated between 10 pm and midnight, a schedule preferred by many Filipinos who stay up late on Christmas Eve for the night-long celebration of the Noche Buena.

Preferably in the morning, Filipinos typically visit members of the extended family, especially to pay respects to their elders. This custom of giving respect has been an age-old tradition in the Philippines called "Pagmamáno", which is done by bringing the elder's hand to one's forehead, while saying the phrase Máno Pô (lit. "Hand, please"). The elder then blesses the person who has given their respect, and in return gives "Aguinaldo", or money in the form of crisp, fresh-from-the-bank bills is given after the Pagmamano, mostly to younger children. Godparents are especially socially obligated to give presents or Aguinaldo to their godchildren.

A Christmas Lunch usually follows after the "Pagmamano". The menu is heavily dependent upon the finances of the family, with richer families preparing grand feasts, while poorer families choose to cook simple yet special dishes. Some families choose to open presents on this day after the lunch.

When nighttime falls, members of the family usually return home or linger to drink, or playing parlor games and Disco Party. Some may opt to have another feast for dinner. Some families spend the entire day at home to rest after the previous days' festivities.

Niños Inocentes[edit]

Holy Innocents' Day or Childermas is commemorated on 28 December as Niños Inocentes. Filipinos once celebrated the day by playing practical jokes on one another, similar to April Fool's Day.[2] One of the widely practised pranks on this day is to borrow money without the intention of paying back. Creditors are usually helpless in getting remuneration from borrower, and are instead forewarned not to lend money on this day. Victims of such pranks were once called out, "Na-Niños Inocentes ka!"

New Year's Eve[edit]

On 31 December 31 ("Bisperas ng Bagong Taon"), Filipino families gather for the Media Noche – a midnight feast that also supposedly symbolises their hopes for prosperity in the coming year.

Filipinos make noise both to greet the New Year and in the belief that the din casts out malevolent spirits. In spite of the yearly ban, people in most towns and cities light firecrackers, with safer methods of merrymaking being banging on pots and pans and blowing car horns. Other traditions and beliefs include encouraging children to jump at the stroke of midnight to increase their height; displaying circular fruit; wearing clothes with dots and other circular designs to symbolise money; eating twelve grapes at midnight for good luck in the twelve months of the year, and opening all windows and doors on New Year's Day to let in blessings.

Three Kings' Day[edit]

Christmas officially ends on Epiphany Day, more commonly known as Three Kings' Day (Spanish: Día de los Tres Reyes; Tagalog: Araw ng Tatlóng mga Harì). Three Kings' was once observed on 6 January (Twelfth Night) but is now held on the first Sunday after New Year's Day. A dying practice is the Hispanic custom of having children leave their shoes out by the window, so that the Three Kings can leave gifts like candy or money inside.

Feast of the Black Nazarene[edit]

Since 2011, the Catholic Church mandated that the season end on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, held on either the Monday after Epiphany or the second Sunday of the year. Final festivities are held on 8 and 9 January with processions of the miraculous Black Nazarene in Manila and Cagayan de Oro. These are in honour of the image's 1787 traslación (transfer) to its present shrine in its basilica in Quiapo District, which was then a separate town.

Feast of the Santo Niño[edit]

The latest possible celebrations are on Feast of the Santo Niño (Christ Child) every third Sunday of January. The image most associated with this day is the purportedly miraculous Santo Niño de Cebú, the first Christian icon brought to the islands. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan came to Cebú and gave the image as a gift to Humamay, the chief wife of the local monarch, Raja Humabon, when the royal couple and their subjects were christened.


Due to Americanisation, decorations such as Santa Claus, Christmas trees, tinsel, faux evergreens, reindeer, and snow have become popular. Christmas lights are strung about in festoons, as the tail of the Star of Bethlehem in Belens, star shapes, Christmas trees, angels, and in a large variety of other ways, going as far as draping the whole outside of the house in lights. Despite these, the Philippines still retains its traditional decorations.


Every Christmas season, Filipino homes and buildings are adorned with star-shaped lanterns, called paról from the Spanish farol, meaning "lantern" or "lamp".[3] These lanterns represent the Star of Bethlehem that guided the Magi, also known as the Three Kings (Tagalog: Tatlóng Harì). Parol are as beloved and iconic to Filipinos as Christmas trees are to Westerners.

The most common form of the lantern is a 5-pointed star with two "tails" at the lower two tips. Other popular variations are four, eight, and ten-pointed stars, while rarer ones sport six, seven, nine, and more than twelve points. The earliest parols were made from simple materials like bamboo, Japanese rice paper (known as "papél de Hapón") or crêpe paper, and were lit by a candle or coconut oil lamp. Simple parols can be easily constructed with just ten bamboo sticks, paper, and glue. Present-day parol has endless possible shapes and forms and is made of a variety of materials, such as cellophane, plastic, rope, capiz shell, glass, and even recycled refuse. Parol-making is a folk craft, and many Filipino children often craft them as a school project or for leisure.

The Giant Lantern Festival is an annual festival held the Saturday before Christmas Eve in the San Fernando City, Pampanga. The festival features a competition of giant lanterns, and the popularity of the festival, has earned the city the moniker, "Christmas Capital of the Philippines".


Another traditional Filipino Christmas symbol is the belén—a creche or tableau depicting the Birth of Christ. Derived from the Spanish name for Bethlehem, Belén, it depicts the infant Jesus in the manger, surrounded by the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the shepherds, their flock, the Magi and some stable animals, and is surmounted by an angel, the Star or both.

Belén 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 for the Star, and painted background scenery. A notable outdoor belén in Metro Manila is the one that used to be at the COD building in Cubao, Quezon City. In 2003, the belén was transferred to the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan when the COD building closed down. This belén 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 from the Nativity Story, with variations such as a fairground story, and Santa Claus' journey.

Tarlac City, Tarlac is known as the Belén Capital of the Philippines holds the annual "Belenísmo sa Tarlac". It is a belén-making contest which is participated by establishments and residents in Tarlac. Giant versions of the belén with different themes are displayed in front of the establishments and roads of Tarlac for the entire season.


In the Philippines, children in small groups go from house to house singing Christmas carols, which they called pangangaroling. 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 homeowners to reward them with coins. Afterward, the carolers thank the generous homeowners by singing "Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo (you are so kind), thank you!"

An example of a traditional Filipino carol is a part of series known as "Maligayang Pasko", which was commonly called as "Sa maybahay ang aming bati":

Maligayang Pasko (Tagalog)Merry Christmas (English)

Sa maybahay, ang aming bati:
"Merry Christmas na maluwalhati!"
Ang pag-ibig, 'pag siyang naghari
Araw-araw ay magiging Pasko lagi!!
Ang sanhi po, ng pagparito,
Ay hihingi po ng aguinaldo.
Kung sakaling, kami'y perwisyo;
Pasensya na kayo't kami'y namamasko!!

To the householder our greeting is:
"A Glorious Merry Christmas!"
Love, if it will reign,
[then] every day will be Christmas always!
The cause of coming here
is to ask for gifts.
If it is such that we're a bother,
Do be patient since we're soliciting for Christmas!

More recently, caroling has become a fund-raising activity. Church choirs or youth groups spend weeks rehearsing Christmas carols then draw up a schedule of visits to wealthy patrons in their homes or even corporate offices (often coinciding with the office Christmas party). These are, in effect, mini Christmas concerts, with excellent performances amply rewarded with an envelope of cash or checks. The choirs then use the funds for goodwill projects. Unlike the traditional children's caroling, the singers do not partake of the earnings, but rather donate their share to the group's projects.


This is a word heard repeatedly during the Christmas Season in the Philippines. Presently, the term is interpreted as gift or money received from benefactors. Aguinaldo is a Spanish term for bonus.[4] Its prevalent use may have originated from Filipino workers of the Spanish era, receiving extra pay from the generosity of the rich employers during the celebration of the Christmas season.

Media and Entertainment[edit]


The first 2 Christmas dramas in Philippine television are Sana Ngayong Pasko (aired in 2009) and Jillian: Namamasko Po (aired in 2010) are both originally produced by GMA Network. Both of them aired on the same channel.


The popular OPM Christmas songs and carols are performed by the OPM artists and chorale groups. OPM Christmas carols and songs are also played on the radio airwaves most likely on FM every November and December.

Annually during Christmas, the TV network ABS-CBN features Christmas station IDs appearing in the form of a music video, which was also adopted by TV5 and GMA. In recent years, ABS-CBN's Christmas songs like "Star ng Pasko", "Ngayong Pasko Magniningning ang Pilipino", "Da Best ang Pasko ng Pilipino", "Lumiliwanag ang Mundo Sa Kwento Ng Pasko", and more recently, "Magkasama Tayo sa Kwento ng Pasko", have gained popularity, have been praised by many Filipinos including children, gained a million views on YouTube, and received widespread critical acclaim.

The popular OPM Christmas carols and songs are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nita Umali Berselsen. "The Longest Christmas". Living in the Philippines. Archived from the original on 2007-12-28. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ 'Merriam Webster - English English- Spanish Dictionary
  4. ^ Aguinaldo sa Pasko - About the Philippines

External links[edit]