CHRISTMAS in the Philippines is always a vibrant scene. City lights glow brighter with the addition of twinkling Christmas lights. Yuletide carols are widely sung in gatherings and played in public places. The Christmas spirit is intimate in the countryside where family gatherings are customary.

If you are spending Christmas in the City of Smiles, there are various things you can do that can make the occasion even more special.

Since this is the land of sweets, you can choose from the many eateries and restaurants around the metropolis where you can enjoy the delectable Bacolod taste. There are nearby resorts where you can enjoy the sea or the mountains.

Bacolod and its surrounding areas are a great place for families on a holiday vacation. But if you do not want to spend that much, there are other ways to celebrate Christmas that can still be as meaningful and enjoyable for the entire family.

Misa de Gallo in San Sebastian Cathedral

At the heart of this celebration is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Get into the Filipino tradition of attending the dawn masses, known as Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo.

If you want to put a bit of history into the activity, bring the entire family at the heritage structure of the San Sebastian Cathedral to hear mass. It’s a good family bonding where you put spirituality at the heart of the season.

If you don’t have enough finances to exchange gifts with your family members, you can give out something intangible but more meaningful. You can exchange prayers where you pray out loud for a family member, one at a time, and let them pray for you as well.

Visit relatives, friends or charity homes

This season is the best time to revisit your family tree. Reconnect with relatives and visit their homes. If you don’t have roots in Bacolod or Negros Occidental, visit your friends and their families.

If you are a traveler who knows no one in the city, you can visit a Home for the Aged or an Orphanage. Your presence can surely brighten up someone else’s day. Make others feel remembered. It’s the best gift you can give this Christmas.

Family games with children

With the advent of commercial and modern facilities, children prefer to roam and play in malls. Gadgets take the place of toys. Why not create homemade toys or Christmas decors from recycled and upcycled materials? Or, do some fun Filipino games in the streets or public venues. Be creative. Give them the gift of laughter. Having fun with your children will create more lasting memories for the entire family.

Stroll in the Lagoon, the Plaza or the Government Center

The Capitol Lagoon is once again open to the public. That is good news. Stroll the public plaza and see the Christmas Village. Enjoy looking at the parols and the belens. Check out the Bacolod City Government Center.

Have your family photo taken with all the colorful lights in your background. Watch out for the Fireworks Display on scheduled dates or just enjoy the view of the stars.

Go around the city and see the Christmas decors in buildings and homes or take pleasure watching the lanterns on display on the side of the streets.

You don’t have to go far to enjoy Christmas. Find a spot in the city that you have not fully explored. Spend time with your loved ones and people who will value your presence.

Merry Christmas everyone!

All photos are by this author. Claire Marie Algarme blogs at Follow her as @firsttimetravel on Twitter and Instagram and like her Facebook page First-time Travels blog.