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Expat Exchange - Christmas in Philippines
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Subic Bay, Philippines


Christmas in Philippines

By Joshua Wood, LPC

William Russell
William Russell

Summary: Learn how people celebrate Christmas and the New Year in Philippines - traditions, food, church, gift exchange and more.

The holiday season in the Philippines is a vibrant and lengthy celebration, renowned for being one of the longest Christmas seasons in the world. For expats and digital nomads experiencing their first Christmas and New Year's in the archipelago, the festivities are an immersive mix of local customs, religious devotion, and communal joy.

Christmas and New Year's Celebrations in the Philippines

In the Philippines, Christmas is not just a day's celebration but a season that unofficially begins as early as September. The country's predominantly Catholic population ensures that religious traditions are deeply woven into the fabric of holiday festivities. As the "ber" months roll in, you'll start hearing Christmas carols and seeing homes and streets adorned with colorful lights and parols, the traditional Filipino star-shaped lanterns.

New Year's celebrations are equally festive, with families gathering to welcome the coming year with an abundance of food, noise, and merriment. Fireworks and firecrackers light up the sky at midnight, symbolizing the driving away of bad spirits and the ushering in of good fortune.

Pre-Holiday Events and Traditions

Leading up to Christmas, you'll find a series of events such as Simbang Gabi, a nine-day series of dawn masses that start on December 16th. This tradition showcases the Filipino's strong faith and anticipation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Many believe that completing all nine masses will lead to a granted wish.

In urban areas and provinces, Christmas bazaars and markets pop up, offering a variety of goods from holiday decorations to gift items and local delicacies. These markets are not only shopping venues but also a showcase of Filipino craftsmanship and culinary heritage.

The Filipino Santa Claus and Gift-Giving

While the concept of Santa Claus exists in the Philippines, it's not as central as in Western traditions. Instead, the focus is on the spirit of giving, with Monito Monita, a local version of Secret Santa, being a popular gift-exchange activity among friends, family, and colleagues. Gifts often range from practical items to whimsical and personalized presents.

Traditional Holiday Foods and Desserts

No Filipino celebration is complete without a feast, and Christmas and New Year's are no exceptions. Traditional foods include lechon (roast pig), hamonado (pineapple-glazed ham), queso de bola (edam cheese), and various rice cakes like bibingka and puto bumbong. Desserts such as leche flan (caramel custard) and fruit salad are also holiday staples. For New Year's Eve, 12 round fruits are displayed to symbolize prosperity for each month of the coming year.

Christmas Eve and Day Customs

Christmas Eve, known as Noche Buena, is a significant event where families gather for a late-night feast after attending the Midnight Mass, Misa de Gallo. It's a time of togetherness, reflection, and joyous celebration. Christmas Day itself is usually more relaxed, with visits to extended family and friends to exchange gifts and share in the holiday spirit.

Church attendance is high during the holidays, with many Filipinos attending mass on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Churches are often filled to capacity, with overflow crowds outside, all eager to participate in the religious observance of the season.

Destinations Known for Christmas Festivities

Certain towns and neighborhoods are famous for their Christmas decorations and festivities. Metro Manila's Ayala Triangle Gardens dazzle with a spectacular lights and sounds show, while the Giant Lantern Festival in San Fernando, Pampanga, showcases the artistry of giant lantern making. These places become hubs of holiday cheer, drawing both locals and tourists to witness the Filipino way of celebrating Christmas.

As the holiday season unfolds in the Philippines, expats and digital nomads will find themselves enveloped in a warm, festive atmosphere that's both familiar and new. The Filipino Christmas and New Year's celebrations are a testament to the country's rich culture, deep faith, and the communal spirit of sharing and joy. Whether it's through the food, the music, or the traditions, the holidays in the Philippines offer a unique and unforgettable experience that's sure to create lasting memories for those away from home.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


William Russell
William Russell

William Russell
William Russell

Subic Bay, Philippines

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William Russell
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