Celebrating the Pinoy Christmas-A A +A
Friday, December 23, 2011
THE Yuletide season seems to be the most anticipated celebration in the Philippines every year. In fact, Filipinos are known for having the longest celebration of Christmas which starts as early as September. As soon as ‘ber’ months hit the calendar, Filipinos begin decorating the streets, establishments and their houses with colorful and vibrant Christmas lights and gigantic Christmas trees.
The unique celebration of the Yuletide season in the Philippines shows how Filipinos have managed to indigenize the Western culture, which first introduced Christmas in the country, while preserving their native traditions. These are the traditions and reasons why celebrating Christmas in the Philippines gives a unique and irreplaceable experience.
Philippines is known for its Christmas decorations which portray Christ’s birth. The Belen, which illustrates the Nativity scene, is based on the accounts written by Matthew and Luke in the Bible about Jesus’ birth. It shows the image of infant Jesus laid in a manger while being watched over by Mary and Joseph. Other Belens also present images of the Magi with their gifts, shepherds, animals and angels. A few days before the much-awaited Christmas celebration, the manger where baby Jesus is placed should be empty. The image of Jesus is laid in the manger on Christmas day to signify His birth.
Belens are usually found in houses, churches and even business establishments. In fact, various provinces in the Philippines annually hold Belen-making contest as the Yuletide season approaches.
Parols are said to be the most iconic Christmas decoration in the Philippines. These are five-pointed star-shaped lanterns which are made out of bamboo and either papel de Japon or tissues. They are often lit with small candles inside and even surrounded by flashing lights. Filipinos today show their creativity and resourcefulness as they make lanterns out of recycled materials.
The star-shaped lanterns depict the star that guided the three wise men in their search for the newborn Christ. History reveals that parols were first used by people from various provinces to light and guide their ways as they went to churches to attend Mass before dawn.
The Christmas Tree
Christmas would not be complete without Christmas trees. If you’ll ask children and even adults about what comes on their mind if they hear the word Christmas, Christmas trees would surely be one of their answers. Although the Spanish colonizers were the ones who introduced Christmas in our country, it was the American colonial government that brought the concept of putting up Christmas trees during the season.
If we’ll come to think of it, the use of Christmas tree as a decoration happens not only in our country. However, what makes our Christmas trees unique and special are the materials and resources Filipinos use to create these decorations. Since pine trees are not abundant in tropical countries like Philippines, Filipinos make use of woods, twigs, recycled items and even yarns and strings to construct and create their personalized Christmas trees.
As ‘ber’ months start, establishments, stores and houses also begin playing non-stop Christmas music. By the end of November, you’ll start hearing children on the streets singing Christmas songs.
As Christmas day approaches, children and even adults would usually go from house to house with handmade musical instruments like drums made out of empty milk cans and tambourines made from bottle tops, expecting a few coins from the homeowners after singing Christmas carols. Caroling, indeed, makes Christmas in the Philippines merrier.
If there’s one Christmas custom that shows how Filipinos value religion, it would be the Simbang Gabi tradition.
December 16, marks the beginning of Simbang Gabi which ends on December 24. Filipinos are eager to complete the nine consecutive days of early morning mass for they believe that doing so will make their wishes come true. The last day of Simbang Gabi is called Misa de Gallo or the “Rooster’s Mass.” According to historians, it was called the Rooster’s mass for it is celebrated at four in the morning when roosters started “crowing at the sun.”
After mass, Filipinos would grab and savor bibingka (rice cakes) or puto bumbong (purple-colored sticky rice cake) partnered with hot chocolate for breakfast.
Noche Buena, which means “Good Night”, is the Christmas feast eaten by families usually after attending the Misa de Gallo. Most of the meals Filipinos used to serve during Christmas Eve include lechon (roasted pig), pancit (stir-fried noodles) for long life, ham, queso de bola, bread and fruit salad.
Regardless of how luxurious or simple the feast is, Filipino families believe that enjoying each family member’s company during the Noche Buena is more important than the sumptuous dishes being served on the table. The fact that family reunions often occur during Christmas season proves that Christmas is the best time for families to get together.
So going back to what makes Christmas in the Philippines unique in the world, I believe it’s not just because of its hybrid traditions and well-diversified culture. Christmas in the Philippines is different not because our country celebrates it longer than anywhere else. Instead, Pasko sa ‘Pinas gives importance to religion, brotherhood, family and above all Jesus Christ – the very reason why we are celebrating the Yuletide season.
We may not have snow in our country to experience White Christmas, yet through the traditions and customs we practice with our families and being surrounded by wonderful, kind and Christ-like individuals, we are able to feel and appreciate the true spirit of the Yuletide season.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 24, 2011.