Christmas, Philippines style | | – Napa Valley Register

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• In the Philippines, it’s common to have the belen – or nativity scene, or creche – everywhere, and not just in churches or other religious spaces. In fact, every Filipino household will have one set up during the festive season. A complete set is comprised of baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Three Kings, as well as every barn animal you can think of, though many belens exclude the last two since they’re not as essential. Whether it’s made of the original porcelain or recycled materials, you’ll see them in schools, building lobbies, and homes. Some schools and barangays even hold competitions for the best belen, making for some lavish displays.
• Christmas lights take a unique shape in the Philippines as the parol. Traditionally, parols are a big circle with a star in the middle, but they can be made in various designs like stars and flowers. They can also be made from different materials like plastic, wire, wood, or even recyclables. Originally made to hang on lamp posts to guide mass-goers to Simbang Gabi, the parol can now be found everywhere like outside houses, in malls, and offices.
• Simbang Gabi means “night mass,” which Filipinos attend either late at night or in the wee hours of the morning for all nine days before Christmas. The belief is that attending all nine masses will grant you a wish.
• Christmastime in the Philippines finds churches decorated with a Christmas flair, and vendors selling local Christmas goods like bibingka and puto bumbong outside after the mass. These are the two most popular and most loved Filipino Christmas treats.
• Unlike in many other countries, Christmas caroling is a humorous affair in the Philippines, as opposed to a whole production of good vocals, coordinated outfits, instruments, and well-practiced Christmas tunes. Instead, children and adults go from house to house, starting from early December with recycled instruments and made up lyrics.
• The Christmas mass that most Filipinos attend, Misa de Gallo, differs from regular Sunday mass, in that it’s a celebration that includes lighting candles, projector displays, and sometimes a re-enactment of the Jesus birth story.
• Misa de Gallo is also the first mass after the nine days of Simbang Gabi, and the event at which you can make a wish if you attended all nine days.
• The traditional Filipino Christmas dinner is not eaten on Christmas Eve or Christmas night, but involves waking up at midnight to welcome Christmas day with Noche Buena — a lavish feast of traditional Filipino Christmas dishes like lechon, queso de bola, hamon, spaghetti, and fruit salad. Since most Filipino families are separated for most of the year, with kids off at college and parents working overseas, the act of preparing Noche Buena is something looked forward to as a time to prep meals and cook together as a whole family.
• Exchanging gifts is different, too. Not only do you have to find the perfect present for your manita or manito, you also have to describe them, have everyone guess who it is, and sing the classic “I Love My Manita/Manito Yes I Do” song before giving your gift. Filipino children during the holidays are on the lookout for their ninangs and ninongs — a red envelope gifted by godparents to their godchildren, containing money — ang pao – which often goes to savings, or a nice treat for the child for the Christmas season.
• Christmas doesn’t end on Dec. 25 for Filipinos, whose family-centric culture observes one more lavish feast – Media Noche. The table is usually adorned with food formed into round shapes and an assortment of 12 round fruits, since circles are believed to bring in good fortune. Aside from that, there’s also the belief that loud sounds will keep the bad spirits from entering the new year, so as much noise as possible is made when the clock strikes midnight – be it with car alarms, instruments, a torotot (noisemaker), or sparklers and firecrackers.
• Even Filipino priests say Christmas isn’t over until January, with the Feast of the Three Kings, or the Epiphany, on the first Sunday in January, which celebrates the day the Three Kings reached Jesus’ manger.
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