It’s the 24th of December, and Simbang Gabi has just ended. Families are gathering to celebrate noche buena. The aroma of bibingka and puto bumbong fills the air, drawing out the festivity in everyone. A plethora of gifts lay beneath a tastefully decorated Christmas tree, complete with flashing lights and sparkly ornaments. Outside, houses are decked out in Christmas decorations and parols, and children are singing Christmas carols and chanting “Namamasko po! ”
This is a common scene on Christmas Eve in the Philippines—spending time with family, eating delicious food, and enjoying the festive atmosphere. Christmas is celebrated all over the world, but the way Filipinos celebrate is something else.
To begin with, Christmas in the Philippines is the world’s earliest and longest-running Christmas celebration. It begins on September 1 (also known as the “ber months”), reaches a climax on December 25, and officially ends on January 6 (though celebrations may continue until the Feast of the Santo Niño). That’s at least four months and one week, or roughly one-third of the year, and it’s all for Christmas.
Christmas caroling looks in the Philippines is another unique Christmas tradition. In other countries, it’s usually a professional, well-synchronized, and highly skilled group of singers and musicians blasting Christmas tunes in the same location. Christmas caroling in the Philippines comprises small groups of children going from house to house, chanting “Namamasko po! “, as well as singing Christmas carols while playing with their makeshift instruments. We usually give these carolers money for their efforts, to which they reply, “Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo!“
As a predominantly Roman Catholic country, the Philippines is also very focused on Jesus, particularly His birth. Thus, we have Simbang Gabi, a nine-mass novena that runs from December 16 to December 24. It is believed that if you attend all nine days of Simbang Gabi, you will be able to make a wish during Misa de Gallo, the ninth of the Christmas Eve masses.
And who can forget the feast that follows Misa de Gallo? While noche buena is not unique to the Philippines, the Philippine version includes dishes such as queso de bola, lumpia, pancit, pandesal, rice, and bibingka.
Overall, you could say that Christmas in the Philippines is truly special and one-of-a-kind. Regardless of the circumstances, Christmas is still celebrated. Even a pandemic and a couple of typhoons couldn’t put a stop to last year’s celebrations. It’s safe to say that the Filipino Christmas tradition will continue this December, so let’s make it memorable. Martin Victorino // File Photo by J.M. Iglesias