• The Longest Christmas

    The Yuletide Season In the Philippines

    The following article was culled from http://www.wtcmanila.com.ph/focus1.htm, and its author is unknown.

    Christmas in the Philippines revolves mainly around the spirit of giving and merry making.

    Many Filipino yuletide traditions have their roots from the Spanish colonial era. The misa de gallo, for example, is a pre-dawn mass celebrated during the nine days preceding Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the final Christmas mass is celebrated with much ceremony, color and lights. The midnight mass on Christmas Eve with its rituals dates back to the period when mass was still said in Latin.

    It is also customary for Filipino families to sit down to a feast on Christmas Eve after the Christmas Eve mass. Called the Noche Buena, the feast is in part a thanksgiving for the blessings of the year past, as well as a prayerful feast for a prosperous year to come. Traditionally on every table are the jamon (ham) and queso de bola (cheese).

    Christmas morning sees children setting out to visit their godparents. It is customary for Filipino children to kiss the hands (mano) of their godparents on Christmas Day. Godparents, in turn, have gifts (aguinaldo) waiting for the children.

    Older children are equally fond of giving and receiving gifts. The Filipino's penchant for taking Western practices and imbibing them into their own can be seen in their gift-giving practices.

    • The Philippines is the only Asian nation in which Christianity is the religion chosen by the people. Christmas celebrations start nine days before Christmas with a mass known as Misa de Gallo. At this mass the story behind the birth of Christ is read from the Bible.
    • The Panunuluyan pageant is held each Eve. A couple is chosen to reenact Joseph and Mary's search for shelter.
    • Mass is held hourly on Christmas Day so that everyone can attend. Religious services include pastore, or play, based on myth of the birth of the Christ Child. The pastore closes with a star from the upper part of the church sliding down a wire and coming to rest over the church's Nativity scene.
    • Christmas celebrations may have evolved from old tribal custom Serenading cumbancheros, or strolling ministrels, end their performances by singing Maligayang Pasko to the tune of "Happy Birthday".

    The monito-monita, roughly translated to mean secret friend, traces its roots to the Western folklore of Saint Nick, or Santa Claus, or Kris Kringle. In offices and schools, the tradition of giving gifts to friends has become a tradition.


    Another tradition is the hanging of lanterns in front of the house. Not content with having a Christmas tree (green, white or aluminum - it doesn't really matter), the Filipino home will not be found without a parol (lantern) during the Christmas season. Traditional parols are usually made with colored paper and bamboo sticks, usually fitted with lighting devices or lightbulbs to bring out colors during the evening. San Fernando in Pampanga, a province northwest of Manila, is famous for making lanterns that produce a kaleidoscope of colors through an ingenious lighting system that relies on bulbs switching on and off in a programmed sequence.

    It is perhaps the tradition of generosity and celebration that has led most economic analysts to expect the economy to perk up during the Christmas season. For companies operating in the Philippines, not giving a Christmas bonus by late November or early December is equivalent to a major corporate faux pas, and is a definite no-no if one wants to cultivate loyalty and goodwill among employees.

    Spurred by increased spending by a population that is relatively cash-rich during late November through December, stores normally experience brisk business during the season. It is no wonder then, that malls pour substantial amounts of money toward making their stores more attractive and "Christmas-y" during the season.

    In recent years, this tradition of gift-giving has given rise to an entire cottage industry which transforms shopping centers out of usually empty hallways and vacant lots. Called the tiangge, these are actually flea markets that sprout during the Christmas season. The more famous ones are in the Greenhills shopping center in San Juan and in Divisoria in Central Manila. In these flea markets, one will find inexpensive gift items that can be haggled down to bargain prices. It is not uncommon for shoppers to buy in bulk in these flea markets. These have become so popular that even some five-star hotels have ventured into holding tiangges in their function halls.

    It is said that the Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world. For where else can you find Christmas carols being played as early as late October, and Christmas decors being taken down only after the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6? Indeed, while songs may mention of snow and sleds, in the Philippines, Christmas has gone beyond a changing of seasons. It has become a state of mind shared by an entire people.


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