Pinoy Christmas

"Maligayang Pasko Po!" That is what we hear in the Philippines from greetings to songs which means Merry Christmas.

Christmas in the Philippines, particularly in the province, is really something to look forward to. Sorely missed since this is my first time to spend the holidays again in this country after three Christmases spent abroad. This season is one that made me miss me family so bad that it hurts. (Reality check - my family's bread and butter is not in the Philippines so what can I do? )

Pasko in my country is one of the longest celebrations composed of a lot of traditions which revolves fundamentally on the spirit of giving, making other people happy and merry making. Everyone looks forward to Christmas as it denotes family gatherings, get togethers, reunions. Family members abroad usually schedule their homecomings during this season.

We start hearing Christmas carollers in front of our houses by the month of December. Karoling in Filipino is a group of people serenading a household with Christmas songs. Some are just group of children or elderly folks. Others are organized groups that provides a letter and advance notice of the date when they will serenade.

I can say, Philippines is one country that celebrates Christmas the longest since it starts from the 'ber' month! Christmas songs are already being played and some people are already getting ready for the Holiday Season from the month of September.... Countdowns of how many days left are being announced on radio, newpaper and is a part of the television news!

Parol or Christmas lanterns hanged in front of the house is another Filipino tradition. Aside from the Christmas tree, decorations of evergreens, belen (nativity scene) and Christmas balls - a home decoration will not be complete without the parol. The traditional parol is made from bamboo sticks and japanese papers, sometimes fitted with bulb. We have the now famous Parol festival in Pampanga province where we can find lanterns with ingenious lighting systems that produce an awesome kaledioscope of colors. I observe that the designs are influenced by the star and the Christmas flower 0r poinsettia. There is an annual competition in this place of the country, now known to have produced the most elaborate and biggest lantern. And the province have the Paskuhan Village, a place celebrating Christmas the whole year round!

Some, if not most of our traditions are influenced by the Spanish colonial era. One is the Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo. This year is kinda cold - with Baguio City recording its coldest at 9 degrees Celsius, it is really hard getting ready for the 4 AM Holy Mass. Imagine taking a bath at about past three am in the chilling December breeze! The misa de gallo is a mass usually celebrated before sunrise, nine days before the birthday of Jesus Christ. On the eve of Christmas or Bisperas, a mass is celebrated usually attended by the whole family - one that I look forward to this year!

Right outside the church are the vendors of traditional ricecakes. After the mass, it is normal to find people lining up to buy bibingka and puto bumbong. Ginger tea or salabat is often served free of charge.

The thanksgiving dinner, at the birthdate of Jesus Christ , is called Noche Buena. For people in the province, we have the tinolang manok (chicken soup with papaya and ginger), or bulalo (beef stew - hind shank with bone). Rice cakes and sweets will always be there - pulvoron, fruit salad, halayang ube, dried sweet fruits, etc.. Some other Filipino household have ham or hamon, queso de bola (cheese). Rice! Of course a Filipino dinner will not be complete without the rice!

Children are always excited to wake up in the morning of Christmas to wear their new clothes. I grew up with this tradition that a new set of wardrobe or 'pamasko' will be bought before Christmas and will be worn the first time on that special day. Plus, after waking up - we also check the socks! (I liked hanging socks when I was a kid that there were times I hanged two or three - confusing Santa.)

Christmas mornings in the province is a scene to reckon. Younger generations will go around their elder relatives - parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties - to kiss their hands. We call it 'mano' which is a tradition of asking for blessing by placing the right hand of an elder to the forehead. The elders in return provide the blessing by saying "May God bless you!" or "The Mercy of God be with you!" or "May God be with you!". I remember when I was a kid, going to the provinces of Pampanga and Zambales where my ancestors are and joking that my forehead already has callous from too much mano!

On the streets, we see children looking at their best, at times accompanied by elder siblings or parents going around the neighborhood - paying respect by kissing the hands of the elders. Aguinaldo or gifts are often prepared in advance for children. Recent practice involves crisp bills to be given away to kids who are not on the regular list (or unfortunately and unintentionally omitted from the list). Crisp bills are given away sometimes in lieu of wrapped gifts.

We also have kris-kringle or monito-monita. An exchange of gifts among group of people. Monito-monita is one secret friend that you pick on the early part of the season and will only be revealed on a Chirstmas party or gift giving (or exchange gift celebration). One person can have a lot of monitos or kringles in one Christmas - in every social group that a person belongs. I remember having more than five in just one season - my side of the family, my wife's family, my friends, the department I belong to, officers of the company, the whole company and the church choir. The more social group you have in the Philippines - the more monitos you have and the more Christmas parties to attend to!

Plus : do not forget the Christmas bonus for employees! Companies operating in the Philippines are required to provide thirteenth month pay to employees before Christmas. Another reason to celebrate the season for most employees!

The Philippines takes Christmas very seriously. As it starts with the ber month, it does not end on Christmas Day. We also celebrate the feast of the Three Kings which falls on the first week of January.

The Philippines is really one for the books as the country with the longest and most colorful Christmas celebration and traditions. With all of these...

We can claim that...

Philippines is

A Christmas Country!


Mitz said...

wow. very comprehensive entry about what Pinoy Christmas is about :) thanks for sharing the Christmas spirit. Merry Christmas!

Promdi Pinoy said...

Hi Mitz! Thanks for your comment. I'll try to write more about Filipino traditions... And Merry Christmas to you!

Anna said...

Bibingka! *I'm drooling now* :-)

Promdi Pinoy said...

Hi Anna! I also like Bibingka especially with cheese and Itlog na pula! Thank you for dropping by.