We've already touched on the uniqueness of Philippine-style Christmas in a previous post (i.e. the celebration of the Misa de Gallo). Now, we're going to discuss other traditions observed by Filipinos to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ:
Even the humblest Filipino home hangs up a parol during Christmas. The parol may come in a wide variety of designs, but it's always based on the shape of the star which guided the Three Wise Men to the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Usually, it comprises a star made out of bamboo frames and colored cellophane, while the rest is made of Japanese paper. If you notice even a single parol up in any Filipino establishment, it's a sign that Christmas is around the corner.
Every Christmas Eve, Filipinos brace themselves for December 25 by throwing lavish dinner parties known as "Noche Buena" (Spanish: "Good Night"). Here, you'll find mouthwatering meals like sweetened ham, queso de bola, spaghetti and other traditional Filipino meals. So don't be surprised if your Filipino colleagues start joking about weight gain and blown-up budgets after the fact!
Once the Noche Buena is over, Filipinos start the countdown until midnight. Once the clock strikes 12 A.M., fireworks start exploding all over the country, and text messages saying "Merry Christmas" fly around faster than the speed of light.
There's a downside to this, though. Since firework-related accidents spike during Christmas and New Year, the authorities have to issue warnings about the safe use of fireworks every year. Also, if you're texting a friend "Merry Christmas" at a time millions of Filipinos are doing the same, expect your message to arrive a little later than usual because of clogged up networks!
Also known as "Kris Kringle," monito monita is the Filipinos' own take on the Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts. It's usually celebrated in classrooms and offices around the country.
There are several versions of monito monita, but the most basic goes like this: If you're a participant, you'll either be assigned or asked to choose a number/pseudonym. These numbers/pseudonyms will then be written on pieces of paper, which you'll pick randomly along with the other participants. The person corresponding to the number/pseudonym you pick will be your recipient. Sounds straightforward enough, right?
Not quite. You still have to comply with the monito monita's theme. For example, you may be asked to give "something fluffy," "something shiny" or even a combination of the two. There might also be limitations on the value of the gifts, such as "at least worth Php300" or "not higher than Php1,000." Since you don't know the gender or personal preferences of your recipient, this adds to the challenge of gift-picking. How do you choose a present that's gender-neutral, unique and within the price range all at the same time?
Often, the monito monita will last over the course of several weeks. One week, it may be "something green"; the next, it may be "something pink." In other words, this tradition will definitely test your creativity, resourcefulness and wallet!
Niños Inocentes (December 28)
When King Herod of Judea heard that a Messiah was about to be born, he realized (and not without reason) that his days on the throne were numbered. So he asked the Three Wise Men to locate the birthplace of Jesus Christ, purportedly so the king can offer his congratulations.
However, an angel appeared to the Three Wise Men in a dream, and warned them about the king's true intentions. So they gave Herod a false location, and fled the kingdom soon afterwards. Eventually, Herod saw through the ruse, and ordered the massacre of all boys below two years of age within his domain. This terrible event has since been commemorated as the Holy Innocents' Day, Childermas or Niños Inocentes.
On this day, Filipinos are warned not to lend anyone money, lest they be victimized by pranksters — who borrow cash on Niños Inocentes with no intention of paying it back!
Three Kings' Day (January 6)
In the Philippines, you'll notice that Christmas decorations are still up even after December 25 is over. That's because Filipinos don't say "Paalam!" to Christmas until January 6, which is known as either "Epiphany" or "Three Kings' Day." This commemorates the twelfth night after Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar had their fateful visit to the Messiah.
There's not much hoopla around this day, actually. Filipinos just love Christmas that much, and as with any other love, they're reluctant to let go of it that easily.
Other Filipino Christmas Traditions
There's also the belen, which is a reenactment of the birth of Jesus Christ. Like the other traditions on this list, it comes in various forms, ranging from small figurines to large-scale plays by live actors. However, it invariably shows the infant Messiah in a manger, surrounded by his parents, stable animals and the Three Wise Men bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Apart from these, Filipinos celebrate Christmas like other Christian nation do. They hang up colorful decorations, play songs and sing carols on the street. Regardless of the way they choose to celebrate the occasion, however, one thing's for sure: The spirit of Christmas is strong in the Pearl of the Orient.