With the vast majority of Filipinos being Catholic, the most prominent holiday celebrated in the Philippines is Christmas (“Pasko” in Tagalog).
In the Philippines, Christmas season starts all the way in September (and you thought we started early here in the states!). That’s when Filipino families begin to decorate their homes, sing carols, and make paroles, another Pinoy tradition. A parole is a Philippine lantern and is a unique Filipino decoration traditionally made from colorful paper, bamboo sticks and are shaped as 5-pointed stars. Originating in 1928, these lanterns were originally designed to help villagers find their way to chapels and churches. Nowadays, you’ll see paroles hung up in homes, schools, offices, retail spaces, and churches throughout the Christmas season. They are beautiful and I’ve always loved them since I was a kid. What can I say — I’m a sucker for Christmas lights!! (Filipino Cultural Association of the University of Maryland - College Park)
Another favorite Filipino Christmas tradition is attempting to complete the Simbang Gabi and Misa de Gallo. Simbang Gabi is a tradition that originated in the early Spanish colonial period as a practical compromise for Filipino farmers who began working before sunrise, to avoid working in the fields under the heat of the sun. Simbang Gabi is comprised of a nine-day series of masses to honor Blessed Virgin Mary. The mass starts from December 16 to Christmas Eve. Filipinos wake up before sunrise or stay up after dark to attend the masses each day in hopes of having a granted wish once they complete the ninth day, otherwise known as the Misa de Gallo. I don’t know about you, but I love all the constant socializing this time of year! December is by far my busiest month of the year! (*For a list of all the churches in Baltimore that are participating in the Simbang Gabi this year, the Filipino Archdiocese of Baltimore has provided this schedule.)
One of the largest and most looked-forward-to aspects of Christmas for Filipinos is the Noche Buena, which typically occurs after midnight mass on Christmas. After mass, families gather and hold a grand family dinner and a hearty feast full of delicious Filipino foods such as lechon, pancit, queso de bola, and many more. There is always a kids talent show, where children will perform in order to receive all of their aguinaldo (gifts). You know how much Filipinos love talent competitions and variety shows! There is also lots of karaoke and caroling. Here in the states, we celebrate Noche Buena a little differently. Most people will host or attend a large Christmas Eve party at someone’s home and it doesn’t matter when mass occurs. (Filipino Cultural Association of the University of Maryland - College Park)
The food is definitely one of my absolute favorite things about the Christmas season. It seems like everyone is constantly eating and cooking! I love making champorado (chocolate and coconut milk rice pudding) for my kids for their breakfast or an afternoon snack (merienda). Bibingka (a sweet rice cake) is another one of my favorite desserts and one that I make often for my kids. I also love all the traditional savory dishes — chicken afritada, pork menudo, sinigang, kare kare, I could go on….
Christmas doesn’t stop after Christmas. We do it all up again for Media Noche (New Year’s Eve)! Filipino families continue to celebrate Christmas until January 6, which is known as Three Kings, a religious event in the Philippines celebrated with a mass. It also marks the end of the Christmas season. The celebration of Epiphany is also known in the Philippines as “Pasko ng matatanda” (Feat of the Elderly) to honor the senior citizens, especially our Lolos and Lolas (grandfathers and grandmothers). (Filipino Cultural Association of the University of Maryland - College Park)
*To learn more about the Philippines and Filipino culture, check out the Katipunan Filipino Cultural School for kids (shameless plug — I’m one of the cofounders and coordinators!). Our program is aimed at preschool to elementary-aged children. We also have a brand new program that we just launched for middle and high school-aged Filipino and Filipino-American kids! It’s called the Katipunan Leadership Program and our very first session is on January 27th!
**Also, if you’re looking for an event to attend in February, please join me at the annual Filipino American Studies (FAST) Gala at the University of Maryland, College Park. This year's gala will be held on February 16, 2019. The theme for the gala is Magkakasama (Togetherness) as it hopes to bring together the Filipino and Filipino-American community in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area. The featured keynote speaker will be the famous Filipino-American comedian, Rex Navarrete. Hope to see you there! It’s going to be a great time!