Christmas in the Philippines

The celebration of Christmas in the Philippines, to put it mildly, is a big affair. Officially the season starts on December 16, when the daily traditional simbang gabi (or dawn mass) is first held, culminating on an evening mass on Christmas eve. People though, start decorating and playing carols when the -ber months hit. It is not uncommon to see Christmas decor together with Halloween stuff at the end of October. Decors are put everywhere, and are not taken down until the Feast of the Epiphany.

Christmas tree made with numerous parol

The most iconic of these decors and symbols is the parol, a star-shaped lantern hung in the windows of homes and in the trees. Traditionally the parol is made of a bamboo frame and colored paper, although the modern versions use cellophane and are lighted from within. I remember my dad used to create one, a large parol to adorn our porch.

Another Christmas icon that is commonly seen in the Philippines is the Belen.  It is the Filipino version of the Nativity Scene, which depicts the birth of Jesus Christ in the manger, usually showing Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Magi. It may also include farm animals, angels and the star. The Filipino version is usually made with local materials, such as using rice straws or nipa to make the thatch roof of the manger.

Jamon and keso (queso) de bola
Food is the centerpiece of the celebration, and no Filipino Christmas celebration will be complete without jamon (ham) and keso de bola (Edam cheese ball). The the two mainstays are served on the Christmas eve feast , called Noche Buena, which is usually partaken after the midnight mass attended by the family. Other elaborate Filipino dishes are prepared for the meal, including paella Valenciana, morcon (stuffed beef roll), and relleno, chicken or fish filled with stuffing. Cooking the dishes is a family activity, and at home I am usually the one who prepares the jamon

On Christmas day kids would go to their grandparents, relatives and ninongs and ninangs (godfathers and godmothers) to pay respect and collect their gifts. And where guests go, food follows, and another feast is usually served for them. 


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