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‘Tis the Season: Looking back on the Filipino Christmas Culture

Article by: Rad Lem-ew Vince B. Balisong and Alexandra Isabelle G. Delavin

Graphics by: Guinevere Rocel N. Rocamora and Cassius Klai C. Francisco

Every year, Filipinos prepare for the Yuletide season by hanging colorful lights, setting up Christmas trees, and playing traditional Christmas carols to bring out the warm nostalgia and spirit of the much-anticipated holiday.

In the previous year, many were not able to fully enjoy the holidays as they were stuck at home and were not able to host parties due to the pandemic. However, as the country slowly recovers from the pandemic, missing these activities last holiday season just might make this year’s celebration even more special.

With Christmas Day fast approaching, it is now time to look back and remember what the community had missed in the past year.

A Taste of Christmas

Although Christmas is generally celebrated on the 25th of December by most people around the globe, Filipinos celebrate this occasion the longest. As early as September, they put up Christmas decorations at their houses and hang holiday lights around their towns that stay as late as January. The seasonal festivities are filled with music, feasts, and reunions with family and friends.

Along with the nostalgic vibes of Christmas lights come the food. A platter of spaghetti and lumpiang shanghai are some of the menu items that a Filipino party can never go on without, but these are not the only dishes that one can see in a household. Other typical snacks include puto bumbong and bibingka are often sold outside churches for those who attend the simbang gabi.

Filipinos also look forward to indulging in the sweet pleasure of Leche Flan, a delightful dessert that melts into one’s mouth. Adding to this, kids would also recognize the smell of burning charcoal and savor traditional grilled barbecues. Other staple dishes include pancit bihon, queso de bola, and hamon de bola, all of which carry an expensive taste to dig in.

Christmas Rush

Aside from the mountain of food and joyous music, Filipinos seize the opportunity to reunite with loved ones and share the love through gift-giving during the holiday season. In an article from the Inquirer, Sociologist Niño Tobias shared how Filipinos have the natural inclination to be generous, especially during Christmas. Because of this, purchasing and handing out gifts have become a well-known expression of love during the holiday. As the act further reflects the country’s culture of hospitality, giving out gifts has become a customary part of celebrating the holiday season.

With a few days away from Christmas, some have already managed to shop for gifts at the start of the “ber” months. Yet, some Filipinos can still be found rushing to the malls and scrambling to find a perfect holiday gift for their loved ones. Fortunately, malls have started to reopen just in time for the holiday.

Along with the gift hunting comes the lookout for the perfect Christmas lantern, more commonly referred to as a parol. As a sign of hope, Filipinos are often in search of the perfect ornament to hang outside their houses, symbolizing the faith that light will always prevail despite the darkest of nights.

A Bucket of Christmas Activities

As schools slowly begin in preparation for face-to-face classes, they have yet to host Christmas parties for students. Nonetheless, Filipinos can still celebrate with their loved ones through small gatherings.

Best illustrated as “Monito, Monita,” Filipinos have their own version of Kris Kringle with participants drawing a name from a box and giving a gift to that person without his or her knowledge before the Christmas gathering. This is commonly done among schoolmates and colleagues. While students may not be able to do this with their peers just yet, it is a fun and inexpensive activity to be done within the family.

Traditional Christmas games do not end here. As Filipinos would never turn down an opportunity for fun, parlor games are always present at every party. Pinoy Henyo, Trip to Jerusalem, Bring Me, Stop Dance, Pukpok-Palayok, and Pabitin are the most well-known of these games. Of course, other activities make up an authentic Filipino party, but these are usually the most familiar. Schools may not be available to host these events for now, but these activities are well worth playing with family members.

As restrictions are gradually being lifted, the country is once again sprinkled with a spark of hope just in time for Christmas. Although the lockdowns have prevented people from celebrating and having grand celebrations last year, the Filipino Christmas spirit has remained as bright as ever.

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