Thursday, December 29, 2011

Philippine Christmas

Christmas: A National Fiesta

The Philippines, similarly to Spain,  has one of the longest and merriest Christmas celebration. It begins formally on December 16 with the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses and continues on nonstop until the first Sunday of January, Feast of the Three Kings, the official end of the season. 

Being  a predominantly Roman Catholic country, the only Asian country where Christians predominate,  Christmas, therefore, is an extremely important and revered holiday for most Filipinos.  It is a time for family, for sharing, for giving, and a time for food, fun, and friendship.

The bamboo parol (pah-role), or star lantern, is the symbol of Christmas in the Philippines, representing the guiding light, the star of Bethlehem.   It emits a warmth unparalleled among holiday adornments and is unique to the Philippines.  Many Filipinos make their own lantern and it is common to compete in making the best lantern.
Recently, Filipinos have begun choosing wreaths and other decorations made with local native materials rather than those patterned after western designs.  And many houses, particularly those in the urban areas are strung with tiny multi-colored lights both inside and out. Most Filipinos think that decorating their homes for the Christmas holidays is a must.

Filipino Christmas Traditions
Christmas in the Philippines is a mixture of Western and native Filipino traditions.  Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, sending Christmas cards, and singing carols have all been inherited from the cultures of the West.   However, these have all been  adapted to fit the nature and personality of the Filipino people.

Christmas Eve in the Philippines is one of the traditions most families celebrate.  It is a night without sleep and a continuous celebration moving right into Christmas Day.  As December 24th dawns, the last Mass of Simbang Gabi is attended; then preparation begins for Noche Buena, which is a family feast that takes place after midnight.

The Noche Buena is very much like an open house celebration.  Family, friends, relatives, and neighbors drop by to wish every family member "Maligayang Pasko" (Merry Christmas).  Food is  in abundance, often served in buffet style.   Guests or visitors partake of the food prepared by the host family (even though they are already full or bloated!). 

Among the typical foods prepared in the Philippines during Christmas are: lechon (roasted pig), pancit, barbecue, rice, adobo, cakes (Western and native rice cakes), lumpia, etc.  There is also an abundance of San Miguel beer, wine, and liquor, which makes the celebration of Christmas indeed intoxicating!  

Christmas day is a popular day for children to visit their uncles, aunts, godmothers, and godfathers.  At each home they are presented with a gift, usually candy, money,  or a small toy.  Food and drinks are also offered at each stop.  It is a day of family closeness, and everyone wishes good cheer and glad tidings.

In the Philippines the countdown to New Year varies depending on family or even region. At the strike of midnight, the noise becomes deafening with firecrackers shooting and blooming in the sky while everyone gape in awe.
The banging and booming rise to a climax as people make noise by clanging old pots and pans, blowing a jeepney, car or tricycle’s horns, using assorted whistles, firecrackers to any kind of noise both awful or simply maddening. For children who wishes to grow taller in the new year, adults cajole them to jump 12 times around midnight in hopes of getting their wish fulfilled. Similar to other Asian countries, the loud noises and sounds of merrymaking are not only meant to celebrate the New Year but are supposed to drive away bad spirits.

After midnight the family also gather for a thanksgiving feast called Media Noche (midnight meal). Filipinos believe having a food-laden dinner table augurs well for the coming year and brings good luck. At least 12 round fruits are placed in the fruit basket as a sign of prosperity for the next 12 months. All-time favourite dishes such as noodles (for long life), pork, beef, chicken, rice cakes and assorted sweets are served. For Catholics there is also a midnight mass to welcome the New Year.

Long live Philippine festive traditions!
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