Unique Filipino Family Christmas Traditions To Miss Back Home
Six years of living in the US, I would still choose celebrating Christmas in the Philippines. Why? Because of these following Christmas traditions only Filipinos can relate to. Here are 13 Filipino Christmas traditions worth experiencing again and again.
As the weather turns cold and December knocks on our doorsteps, Filipinos living overseas can’t help but miss home, the Philippines. It’s Christmas time! Nothing induces nostalgia among Filipinos in America or in any other country than this season. Back in the Philippines, the Christmas season officially starts when the -BER months come around.
Filipino Christmas Traditions Worth Going Home For
Early Start of the Christmas Season
To some people, it’s a joke, but there are those who take it seriously. In the United States, Thanksgiving is a big holiday, probably bigger than Christmas. Who could forget the shopping spree–Black Friday and Cyber Monday–that follows it?
Filipinos (at least the ones in the Philippines) don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in November and there’s nothing that prevents us from setting up decorations as early as September or October.
As soon as the first of September bell rings, Christmas jingles hit the radio stations and decorations go up. Philippines probably sets the record of the longest Christmas celebration in the world.
Oh, 13th month pay!! There’s no such thing stateside. So we just need to eat up the Christmas expenses and hope to pay them off in January. But seriously, the 13th month pay and Christmas bonus is a nice financial buffer for the expenses of the holiday season.
Here’s Aegis talking about that big blessing called Christmas Bonus! Just please avoid Post-Christmas Poverty Syndrome!
Pinoy Christmas Music
Jose Mari Chan? Of course, he’s always present in the FM stations, on the bus, and in the speakers of every mall you visit. He even has a lot of memes now like this one.
We miss the traditional Filipino Christmas songs like “Pasko na Naman,” “Noche Buena,” “Himig ng Pasko,” “Kumukutitap,” “Christmas in Our Hearts,” and the theme song of the members of “Samahan ng mga Malalamig ang Pasko? “Pasko na Sinta Ko.”
Don’t forget ABS-CBN’s Christmas station ID, too. Every year, ABS-CBN delivers a heart-warming song that tells about triumph and joys of celebrating Christmas as Filipinos and, of course, about Jesus Christ who is the center our the celebration. This years theme focuses on being there for each other no matter what happens.
Filipino Parol and larger than life Christmas Decorations
What is a Filipino parol or lantern? It is a traditional Filipino decoration, usually in the form of a star made from bamboo sticks, Japanese paper, plastic cellophane, and illuminated with lights. It is an icon of Christmas celebrations as it lights up the streets and houses during the season.
How to make Filipino Christmas lantern? I am no expert to this but I made it several times as projects in grade school. If you’re crafty or interested in making one, you can check out this video.
Parol, Lantern Parade at UP Diliman, and all those humongous Christmas trees! The ostentatious Christmas lights and displays at the municipio can raise eyebrows and make you question where those politicians are putting taxpayers’ money, but you could almost forgive them because it’s Christmas anyway.
There are also Christmas decorations in America, but you may need to pay an entrance fee to see some of those.
Beginning December 16, churches–Roman Catholic and Protestants hold Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi. Sometimes, it is held very early in the morning at 5:00 am before work or at 6pm to conclude the day.
The soft, gentle cold breeze is also perfect for walking with your loved ones in the park or to the church. Filipinos in America know what cold is like, but the comfortable December cold of the Philippines is just awesome!
Family and Clan Reunions
Christmas celebration in the Philippines brings families together. We miss those noisy, rambunctious, and chaotic reunions because… it’s a celebration and you get to see a lot of your cousins, and titos, and titas this time of year.
Christmas has that distinct sense of being about family, which makes it harder for Filipinos in America. Sometimes we want to go home and celebrate Christmas and New Year in the Philippines, but the airfare is just too expensive. So we’ll need to content ourselves with video calls during our Christmas eve dinner.
Right before the midnight of December 25 strikes, everybody is gathered around the dinner table to celebrate Christmas. After saying our thanks and prayers, we greet everyone with a kiss or “mano”. We take our seats and enjoy the bountiful food served on our plates.
Filipino Christmas Food and Desserts
Lumpia, lechon, kare-kare, menudo, barbeque and all those yummy foods, complete with hamon and queso de bola! Don’t forget to put the apple on the lechon’s mouth! And the desserts! Leche flan, buko salad, and so much more! These are Filipino Christmas Eve staples during Noche Buena but you are free to add dishes every year. In many instances, companies provide Christmas baskets containing these foods to their employees.
Street foods like bibingka, puto bumbong and salted puto are also all-time Filipino Christmas food favorites.
My husband and I grew up in church and when we were teenagers and into our early 20s, we were part of our church’s youth ministry. Every Christmas, we would attend “Christmas Institutes,” a 5-day camp for youth in the Philippines. We sang songs, learned about our faith, and attended workshops and lectures to learn about many things religious, or to help us develop skills in various areas. Even in our mid- and late 20s, we were still involved. But this time in sponsoring youth from our local church and encouraging them to attend these camps.
“Aguinaldo” is what we call the gifts given on Christmas day. Godparents are expected to prepare gifts for their godchild.
When we were kids, my parents would buy new clothes for my siblings and I to wear on Christmas day. With bags across our bodies, polished shoes and tidy hair and clothes, we would go house to house to receive gifts or money. If we were lucky enough, we can receive both.
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Caroling has evolved its form from those pesky kids who just mumble the words of the songs to the beat of their tansan-tambourines and lata-drums, to church choirs who renders angelic and heavenly Christmas carols. But whatever form it is, Caroling, in Filipino, is singing of songs for Christmas season usually for a cause or asking for monetary support.
Also know as gift exchange, monito monita is giving gift in secret expecting for a gift in return. It usually starts from small weekly exchange gift and concludes on or before Christmas day or corporate parties.
Christmas parties are a staple at many offices, churches, and communities! It could be as simple as gathering for food and fellowship, or it could be elaborate, complete with raffle prizes, giveaways, and a program that features speeches and lots of games! Speaking of raffles and giveaways, I remember winning a mobile phone at my previous employer’s Christmas party back in the Philippines! I was must have been lucky that day.
There’s nothing like Christmas back home! These Filipino Christmas traditions will always remind us of who we are and the importance of celebrating with family. We try to practice some of these traditions when we can, just to remind us of Christmas back home. The Philippines, after all, is known for the longest Christmas season around the world.
Merry Christmas everyone. We hope we’d always remember that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and the Savior of the world.