While this time of the year many in the U.S. are busy preparing for Halloween, there is a group of people who has already started the countdown to Christmas. Yes, you read that right! As early as September 1st, most Filipinos, in the Philippines and around the world, start to celebrate Christmas in their own little ways. It is not uncommon that at exactly 12:00 AM, people begin to play Christmas carols, especially “Christmas In Our Hearts,” a song by a local artist that seems to be the Filipino counterpart of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” A few of the lines go like this:
Whenever I see girls and boys
Selling lanterns on the streets
I remember the Child
In the manger as He sleeps
So, come let us rejoice
Come and sing a Christmas carol
With one big joyful voice
Proclaim the name of the Lord!
Let’s sing Merry Christmas
And a happy holiday
This season may we never forget
The love we have for Jesus
Let Him be the One to guide us
As another new year starts
And may the spirit of Christmas
Be always in our hearts
And indeed, people would notice how stalls selling lanterns, plastic pine trees, and festive string lights suddenly fill the busy streets during what Filipinos call the “ber” months—September, October, November, and December. A traditional parol (lantern) is commonly made of cellophane sheets and bamboo sticks.
Also, in some parts of the Philippines, kids start singing Christmas carols to their neighbors from one house to another in exchange for some treats (or even coins). All they have is pure talent and their improvised tambourines made of soda crowns, as well as mini drum sets made of cans and plastic sheets.
When it comes to food, street vendors sell the seasonal delicacies—puto bumbong and bibingka. Puto bumbong is a purple rice cake that is steamed in bamboo tubes served with tea, while bibingka is a spongy rice cake made from sticky rice and coconut milk often served with hot chocolate. Expect Filipinos to food hop until they find their favorite stall which they will crave for the next few months!
Filipinos also observe and highly participate in simbang gabi (dawn masses). It is a tradition where Christians are encouraged to attend a series of nine consecutive daily masses beginning December 16th and ending on Christmas Eve. Families are eager in joining even if these masses start as early as 4AM or as late as 9PM, because it is believed that one can make a wish upon completing all nine. Some Filipinos even consider completing it as an achievement.
For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, families celebrate in various ways. Some families exchange gifts and have meals together at the comfort of their own homes with ham and queso de bola (ball of Edam cheese) as the usual stars of each family’s massive feast. Others would hop from one relative’s home to another, especially to pay respect to the elderly. It is also common for children to see their godparents (most Filipinos have several of them) to receive their gifts.
Within the festivities and practices of a typical Filipino Christmas lies a common theme of abundance, generosity, relationships, joy, faith, hope, family, respect, and care for others. And above all, love—that makes the spirit of Christmas stay in their hearts.