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Traditional Christmas Celebration in the Philippines

24 December 2012 7,202 views 30 Comments

I have traveled halfway across the world, been to 16 countries and 50+ cities, but there is only one place where I want to celebrate Christmas: in Tandag, my hometown in the Philippines.

Christmas Lantern

The parol is everywhere during Christmastime. ©amsdaily.net

Celebrating Christmas is a major event in the country. It starts not in December, but on the start of the -ber months. Once September rolls around, you would already hear Christmas carols in the air, and people would start making their Christmas list and writing Christmas cards. Some would begin putting up Christmas decorations, especially the parol (native star-shaped lantern), while TV stations would start the countdown. All over the country, streets would be livened up with multicolored lights. Truly, Christmas in the Philippines is one festive occasion!

Once December starts, prepare your coins, because groups of children (and even adults!) would go carolling from house to house, accompanied by music (noise?) made on tin cans or other homemade musical instrument. If you have godchildren as well, prepare your gifts for when they start calling! Some godparents would actually pretend they’re not home when the children come. Shame on them. :D


Godparents give their godchildren gifts during Christmas.

If you love parties, Christmas in the Philippines would be perfect for you. Starting December 15, there would be parties held one after another; in your workplace, neighborhood, associations, and various other groups. And what’s a party without food and gifts? Filipinos like exchanging gifts, so you would not only need to buy a present for your family and for your inaanak (godchildren), you’d have to buy some for your friends, officemates, and neighbors too. Giving cash is not so common; just buy a little something that you think the recipient would like.

Aside from receiving gifts from Santa Claus, one of my fondest childhood memories was waking up at 4am to the ringing of church bells, which signals the start of misa de gallo (dawn Mass held from December 16 to 24). I loved going out to Mass that early, shivering pleasantly in my jacket, knowing that afterwards, we would have some hot chocolate, bibingka (rice cake), and puto bumbong (another kind of rice cake).

Rice cake

Rice cakes are a staple during misa de gallo.

When I was a bit older, I remember trying to attend Mass for nine straight nights, as Filipinos believe that if we complete the misa de gallo, our wish will come true. Unfortunately, I never got past three nights in a row.

The most awaited event, however, is the Christmas Eve. Everyone in my family attends the midnight Mass, which is actually held 2 hours before midnight so that we can be home when the clock strikes 12. We will then celebrate it with a noche buena (which refers to the feast on Christmas eve), usually consisting of lechon (roasted pig), fruit salad, cakes, gelatin, spaghetti, and various meat dishes. In deference to me (a pescatarian), a seafood dish will also be served. Other families would have queso de bola (a ball of edam cheese) and ham.


Christmas is a time for family togetherness.


My father enjoying a bit of lechon leg (2011).

Nowadays, especially in the cities, a lot of people celebrate Christmas in the malls. Some also go out of town to celebrate, like in Boracay or Puerto Galera. However, in the small corner of the world where I was born, Christmas (and New Year’s Eve, too) still means celebrating it the traditional way. I know that no matter where I am for Christmas, I will always try to celebrate it with the people who matter the most for me: my family.

How do you celebrate Christmas?

 Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!

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  • Koen Ooms said:

    Merry Xmas Aleah…

  • bertN said:

    Christmas celebration here in ‘tate is nothing compared to Pinas. Walang kaparis sa atin, maski walang-wala masaya pa rin; dito, you have everything you desired when you were growing up but it means nothing when you get there. Merry Christmas sa iyo, maski na hindi merry sa akin.

  • Aleah said:

    @ Koen: Same to you and your family. I hope your mother is okay.
    @ BertN: I guess totoo po yung kanta “Ibang-iba talaga ang pasko sa Pinas.” Who knows, you may get to celebrate Christmas again here. Take care po dyan and hope you will have a wonderful 2013!
    Aleah recently posted..Traditional Christmas Celebration in the Philippines

  • Cotz said:

    Spent Christmas with the family too. A simple feast and a vigil mass to celebrate the birth of Christ. Happy Holidays from a stormy Ticao Island! :)
    Cotz recently posted..Chasing the Sun in Biliran: A Day Trip to Gigatangan Island

  • Missy said:

    Christmas season literally starts on September – Only in the Philippines!
    Merry Christmas Aleah!
    Missy recently posted..Wuthering 2012 – Compilation of the Most Audacious Escape

  • Aleah said:

    @ Cotz: Haven’t been to Ticao Island yet. Hope you’re having a blast there, despite the storm!
    @ Missy: Same to you and JimBry :)
    Aleah recently posted..Traditional Christmas Celebration in the Philippines

  • Ryan Mach said:

    We also have the longest Christmas celebration kaya ang gastos. Haha

  • cindy@thetravelgal said:

    Merry Christmas! And thank you for sharing your Christmas traditions. I’m not sure I would have the energy for that much celebration! Sounds great though.
    cindy@thetravelgal recently posted..Merry Christmas!

  • Aleah said:

    @ Ryan Mach: True that hehe
    @ Cindy: It is :) Merry Christmas!
    Aleah recently posted..Traditional Christmas Celebration in the Philippines

  • Dennis said:

    Tandag from Surigao? That means Bisaya pud diay ka sama nako :)
    Even though my parents are currently visiting me, I still yearn for the typical Christmas back in the Philippines *sigh*

  • Claire said:

    Merry Christmas, Aleah! Those rainbow putos made me crave for some. =) And, I didn’t know you were a pescatarian! Same here. =)
    Claire recently posted..How to Travel (Cheaply) This Christmas Without Going Out of Town

  • Aleah said:

    @ Dennis: I guess it’s really different here. Still, you’re lucky you have your parents with you. Home is where the heart is, right? :)
    @ Claire: Merry Christmas to you too!
    Aleah recently posted..Traditional Christmas Celebration in the Philippines

  • ken | fullpacked.com said:

    merry christmas aleah!

  • frugal expat said:

    Hey Merry Christmas!

    I totally agree with you. Nothing beats the spirit of Christmas in Philippines. Maybe because my family is there and Christmas is always a family event.

    frugal expat recently posted..A Beautiful Rainy Monday in Abu Dhabi…

  • Micki said:

    Merry Christmas! We were in the Philippines over Christmas a few years ago (on Siquijor) and had a wonderful time. The little ones wandering around making music were absolutely adorable!
    Micki recently posted..10 Gifts of Travel Inspiration

  • Aleah said:

    @ Frugal Expat: Merry Christmas to you too!
    @ Micki: Siquijor is WONDERFUL. Good to know you had experienced a Philippines Christmas!
    Aleah recently posted..Travels of 2012—Bittersweet Memories of my Solo Backpacking Trip in Europe

  • Daene | filipinainflipflops.com said:

    Lechon FTW! There’s nothing like Christmas spent in the Philippines really. It’s the best. :)

    Hope you enjoyed the holidays, and advanced happy new year to you and your family! Looking forward to more of your blog posts next year. :)
    Daene | filipinainflipflops.com recently posted..Christmas in Manila, Philippines

  • Mary {The World Is A Book} said:

    Belated Merry Christmas, Aleah! Thank you for taking me back to joyous memories of my childhood in the Philippines with all the Christmas celebrations. I don’t think I’ve ever lasted in misa de gallo either. I suddenly have cravings for puto and lechon. Luckily, my parents retained some of the Filipino traditions and those family gatherings filled with lots of food.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..A Year of Travel Memories and Adventures in 2012

  • Aleah said:

    @ Daene: Same to you :) Hope you have a good 2013 too!
    @ Mary: I really admire Filipinos overseas who also choose to teach their children about their roots. Merry Christmas to you and your family, Mary!
    Aleah recently posted..Travels of 2012—Bittersweet Memories of my Solo Backpacking Trip in Europe

  • Malaysian Meanders said:

    The star lanterns are one of my favorite Christmas decorations. My parents hang a big one in their front window. I haven’t had puto in so long, and the bibingka at the high-end restaurant here in Penang can’t compare to what’s served at my parent’s potluck Christmas parties. Even though I’ve never lived in the Philippines, this post reminds me so much of home.
    Malaysian Meanders recently posted..Best of 2012: Highlights from the Year

  • gabi klaf said:

    what a joy to see a lovely young lady doing what her heart desires most. and check out these wonderful heart-felt adventures she finds herself in. the photos reflect that holiday warmth, anywhere on the globe. universal joy. thanks you for sharing….
    gabi klaf recently posted..Holland- Is It Good For Your Family?

  • Aleah said:

    @ Malaysian Meanders: Thank you so much for saying that, Michelle. Am surprised you know of our food, and saying that it’s better than the one in Penang is such a nice thing to say :D
    @ Gabi Klaf: Thank you. Merry Christmas to you and your family! :)
    Aleah recently posted..Travels of 2012—Bittersweet Memories of my Solo Backpacking Trip in Europe

  • Alice said:

    Wow, Christmas is taken seriously in the Philippines! And so much giving! Too bad my family doesn’t really celebrate Christmas like that. My parents celebrate it because it is the thing to do in the States. I wish they knew the true meaning behind it!
    Alice recently posted..Pic of the Day: Along the Railway

  • traveling morion/jeffrey rilles said:

    Happy New Year Aleah :) Let’s welcum 2013 with full smile and happiness:)
    Note: Ang ganda nung first photo “))
    traveling morion/jeffrey rilles recently posted..PostCard Series| Five Hours Before New Year’s Eve

  • LeX @ LeX Paradise said:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Aleah!

    I love the Rice cake, I tried it once! :)
    LeX @ LeX Paradise recently posted..Korea Travel Highlights, Best of the Year

  • Alyona (@alyonatravels) said:

    Happy New Year, Aleah! Those rice cakes look so yummy! I would love to try them! I agree. Christmas and the New Year are family holidays. I always try to be with my parents at these time. Though this year it was not possible…Thanks God we have Skype :)
    Alyona (@alyonatravels) recently posted..Our Search For an Apartment in Chiang Mai

  • wandering educators said:

    YUM! what amazing food – and what wonderful celebrations!! Love it!
    wandering educators recently posted..Artist of the Month: Gina Mitsdarfer

  • Laura @Travelocafe said:

    The puto looks so delicious! I miss rice cakes so much!!
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..Devdan Show, Bali. An Incredible Journey Through Indonesia’s Culture

  • Aleah said:

    @ Alice: A lot of people worldwide celebrate it that way. :)
    @ Jeffrey: Merry Christmas to you too!
    @ Lex: Same to you :)
    @ Alyona: Yeah, we have the modern technologies now to keep in touch with family, but it’s not the same.
    @ Jessie: Yes :)
    @ Laura: It’s time for it again!
    Aleah recently posted..Beyond the Tragedy: Bohol Revisited

  • Things I Love About Christmas in the Philippines | Solitary Wanderer said:

    […] our family, we celebrate Christmas in the Philippines the traditional way. We go to Midnight Mass then eat the noche buena when the clock strikes […]

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