A Very Filipino Christmas

Glorietta Malls, Makati
Workers usually hit the mall to cool off, wander around, shop, and meet friends after a long day of work!

Christmas is a very awaited time of the year for Filipinos. Being in a country where most are religious, Filipinos celebrate the day that God gave His greatest gift, Jesus, as well as His other blessings in their lives. The festive spirit in the Philippines is very heartwarming (as if the Philippines wasn’t already hot enough!), you’ll find yourself right at home with the people’s genuine joy for the season. Here’s how a typical Pinoy Christmas goes in the Philippines:

Christmas Begins with Some Jose Mari Chan in September

Joe Mari Chan's Christmas Songs are forever popular for Filipinos
Joe Mari Chan’s Christmas songs are epic for many Filipinos!

September 1 usually signals the start of ‘Ber’ months which is a reminder that it’s 3 months more until Christmas! As early as this, the hype and countdown begin. Whether you have seen the online jokes or not, the Filipino ‘Father Christmas’ is Mr. Jose Mari Chan. He is a singer that sings mellow Christmas songs. His Christmas album may have been released in 1990 but it is still on repeat by Filipinos until now; he still even does concerts for them! His most famous song is “Christmas in Our Hearts” but his other songs are amazing, too (without bias!). So when you hear, “Whenever I see girls and boys selling lanterns on the street” Christmas season has officially begun in the Philippines and that song will continue to play until January. Christmas decorations are evident in Filipino houses and everywhere. 

Starting the Day with Night Mass “Simbang Gabi” 

Simbang gabi tsokolate, suman, puto bumbong
Native treats after midnight mass for many Filipinos!

Starting on December 16 until December 24, devout Catholics wake up at the wee hours of the morning to hear mass at church. This practice is called Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) and Filipinos do it to spiritually prepare themselves for the coming of Jesus. Waking up very early in the morning is difficult and tiring but the sacrifice they make for God is worth it for them. After the mass, there is usually pamainit (snacks to warm you up) like sikwati (Filipino hot chocolate) and puto (sticky rice), puto bumbong (rice cake) waiting outside that serves as a bonus for going to mass and somehow makes the going fun

Philippines Provincial Capitols are decorated and enjoyed by people and visitors!
Provincial Capitols are decorated and enjoyed by people and visitors!

Christmas Party after Christmas Party

Filipinos love to party and what better time to party than Christmas? Since December 24 and 25 are already reserved for family, Filipinos make reservations for Christmas parties for as early as November. These are usually Christmas parties for reunions, company parties, and friends. At each party, everyone goes all out with the gifts, food, and the celebration. This is a way for Filipinos to express their gratefulness to their friends, colleagues, and employees and of course, for them to bring in the festive spirit into their workplaces and their relationships. The best part especially for employees will have to be the Christmas bonus in their paychecks!

SM malls are some of the biggest malls in the world
SM malls are some of the biggest malls in the world!

Christmas is the Perfect Time to Share

Gifts are not only for our family and friends but also for the less fortunate. A vast portion of the Filipino population doesn’t have enough money for food and gifts for Christmas because of major financial constraints. Because of that, Filipinos use the Christmas season as an opportunity to help the poor so they can experience the joy of the season, too. Bundles of joy or noche buena packs (you can buy ready-made ones in the supermarket or pack your own) are given so that they can have some delicious meals for Christmas. Some even organize parties and toy drives for orphanages and nonprofit organizations. Poor Filipinos would prefer having a meal on their table and new clothes to wear compared to having toys.  After all, what better way for most Filipinos to celebrate Christmas than being generous and helpful especially to those in need.

But in the End, It’s All About Family

Filipinos prioritize their families and always reserve December 24 and 25 for them. A Christmas Eve dinner is an ever-present tradition in Filipino culture spent with family, food, and laughter. At midnight, you can expect loud merrymaking outside in the form of danceable Christmas songs and fireworks as family members greet each other with a “Merry Christmas”. Christmas day itself is always expected to be a busy, fun-filled day usually with family reunions in the schedule but Filipinos always make time for the Christmas mass, as it is Jesus’ birthday. If you decide to stop by the mall before getting to the Christmas family reunion, expect the mall to be jam-packed with people so some advice would be to do your Christmas shopping ahead of time and to go for home-cooked meals on Christmas. You can also expect heavy traffic on the streets and Christmas caroling outside your car window at every stoplight on your way. When you finally get there, everyone is excited to see you and you’re suddenly surrounded with food, gifts, and of course, people who love you. Like any family reunion, you’ll experience so much joy and have a feeling of being more content and thankful knowing that the best that Christmas has to offer is having your family around. With the ongoing pandemic, Filipinos may no longer have parties nor will they crowd in the malls but being with family, sharing with the poor ones, and playing Jose Mari Chan on repeat are definitely here to stay.

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