Christmas in the Philippines with Ron Gullekson | 12 Days of Christmas Day 12 Culture & Cuisine / Culture & History / Language Resources / Travel

About the Author // Ron Gullekson is a ‘language enthusiast’ with a background in German, Spanish, Arabic, and English. He runs Language Surfer where he shares his advice to language learners and his progress with the languages that he studies.

Christmas in the Philippines

The Long Tradition of Christmas

In the 16th century, Spanish colonizers brought Catholicism to the Philippines. Now 85% of the Philippines’ 98 million people are Christian, making it one of the few predominantly Christian nations in Asia.

As such, Christmas is the tropical island nation’s most important holiday. The season lasts for four months, with decorations going up as early as September. In fact, Filipinos joke that the Christmas season coincides with the “ber” months: months that end with “ber.” (And we complain about hearing carols before Thanksgiving.)

I would guess that the reason Christmas is so popular is that it mixes four things Filipinos hold very dear: religion, artistry, family, and food.

Religion

One of the most important Christmas traditions is Misa de Gallo (Spanish name)/Simbang Gabi (Tagalog name), which is a series of solemn church masses held during the nine days before Christmas. Worshippers celebrate Christ’s birth and the Virgin Mary, and believe that if they attend all services, God will grant them a wish.

In many areas, actors reenact Joseph and the Virgin Mary’s search for someplace to stay. This reenactment is called Panunuluyan.

On Christmas Eve, Filipinos celebrate the Midnight Mass, like many other Catholics do.

Artistry

One of the most common Christmas decorations is the paról, a star-shaped lantern. The paról is as important to Filipinos as the Christmas tree is to westerners (although you’ll now also find Christmas trees in the Philippines). The lanterns function to light the streets for people who are walking to the Simbang Gabi before the sun comes up.

Filipinos take pride in their paról lanterns and their lantern-making skills, even though many lanterns are now plastic with electric lights.

Filipinos also like to sing, so naturally caroling is a popular activity. Children go in groups from house to house, singing carols and playing homemade tambourines. The recipients of the children’s song reward them with coins.

Filipinos also pride themselves on their gift wrapping prowess, something I can testify to, having grown up with a Filipina mom. They put time and effort into the presentation of the gift, so they’d like you to notice.

Family and Food

After Midnight Mass, Filipinos gather together with family, exchange gifts, and eat the Buena Noche feast, which consists of–for lack of a better term–a spread.

People bring dishes to the fiesta, potluck style. Popular foods are lechon (whole roast pig); glazed ham; rice; pasta, including pansit, spaghetti, and macaroni salad; sides, like lumpia, fresh fruit, and balls of cheese; and desserts, like fruit salad, bibingka, and leche flan.

On Christmas, Filipinos visit family, especially elders. Then they eat a festive lunch.

I put “family and food” together here because while menus may vary wildly, the love for family doesn’t.

Part of the difference in families’ Christmas menus accounts to personal taste. Part of it accounts to regional differences. And part of it accounts to finances. Some families simply can’t afford to have elaborate meals.

But to Filipinos, no matter how much money you have, Christmas isn’t a time for moping. It’s a time for cheer and celebration. It’s a time to share what you have with the people you love.

Christmas Vocabulary in Tagalog

English Tagalog
Christmas Pasko
Merry Christmas Maligayang Pasko
Christmas Eve Bisperas ng Pasko
Christmas Eve Feast Noche Buena
Santa Claus Santa Klaus (with ‘Klaus’ rhyming with ‘House’)
Parol (A star-shaped lantern) Paról
The Christmas Season (i.e., the months ending in ‘ber’) Ber Months
Christmas Caroling Pangangaroling
Christmas Carols Awiting Pamasko
Caroler Cumbanchero
Misa del Gallo (Rooster Mass) Simbang Gabi
Reenactment of Joseph and Mary searching for a place to stay Panunuluyan
Rice cake, popular at Christmas Bibingka
Purple sticky rice, popular at Christmas Puto Bumbong
Christmas gift Pamasko
Christmas gift/Christmas bonus Aguinaldo
Secret Santa (the Filipino version of it) Monito Monita
Christmas ham Hamón
Nativity scene Belen
Three Kings Tres Reyes/Tatlong Hari
Cheese Ball Queso de Bola
Hot Chocolate Tsokolate
Roast pig Lechon
Tradition Tradisyon
Family Pamilya

filipino-macaroni-salad

Filipino Chicken Macaroni Salad
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Ingredients
  1. 1 lb. chicken
  2. 4 cups elbow macaroni
  3. 3/4 cups mayonnaise
  4. 1 (20 oz.) can pineapple chunks, drained
  5. 3 tbsp. pineapple juice (from the can)
  6. 3/4 cup carrots, minced
  7. 3/4 cup raisins
  8. 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  9. 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  10. salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. 1. Add the chicken to a pot of boiling water and boil for 25 minutes. Drain the water and let the chicken cool.
  2. 2. Cut the chicken off the bone and shred the meat with your hands.
  3. 3. Add the elbow macaroni to a pot of boiling water and boil for 10 minutes (or according to the package instructions). Drain the water.
  4. 4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise, garlic powder, pineapple juice, salt, and ground pepper.
  5. 5. Add the shredded chicken, carrots, macaroni, raisins, and pineapple chunks to the mixing bowl. Toss until the ingredients are mixed well.
  6. 6. Add the cheese. Gently toss.
  7. 7. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
Adapted from Panlasangpinoy.com
Eurolinguiste http://eurolinguiste.com/
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I'm a language lover, traveler and musician sharing my adventures and language learning tips over at Eurolinguiste. Join me on Facebook for daily language learning and travel tips!

  • What an amazing series!!! I love this! My friend in Japan is Filipino and I was always so interested in his culture.

  • What an amazing series!!! I love this! My friend in Japan is Filipino and I was always so interested in his culture.