Christmas in the Philippines

Published 10:26 pm Friday, December 13, 2019

“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” — Luke 2:11-12.

It’s that time of year again to celebrate the nativity and incarnation of Jesus Christ, who was born in a manger, later suffered and died for our sake, and was then resurrected to give us hope in life.

It’s time again to enjoy listening to Yuletide carols and delighting ourselves at buildings, malls, and houses adorned with Christmas decorations, colorful electric lights, Christmas trees and lanterns.

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It’s that time of year again to send and receive Christmas cards filled with thoughtful, joyful greetings and best wishes.

Immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens like me may have become accustomed to the Western ways of living. But wherever we may be, we still carry in our hearts and minds the cultures and traditions of our youth.

As Christmas draws near, nostalgia creeps in, as I love reminiscing Christmas traditions from the Philippines where I was born.

As early as September, shopping malls and stores start hanging Christmas decorations and playing Christmas songs. Houses are getting ready for Christmas family reunions. Civic groups and organizations begin raising funds by caroling from house to house and business to business. Churches see more attendance.

These activities run through the Feast of Three Kings, the first week of January.

In a Filipino household, you’ll see a star or “parol” ( a Spanish word meaning lantern or lamp) or Christmas lantern hanging or distinctly displayed in one’s house. This symbolizes the star over Bethlehem, the one that guided the wise men to the stable where Our Lord Jesus Christ was born.

The traditional five-pointed star lantern was made of bamboo sticks, cellophane and colored rice paper, commonly called “papel de Hapon” or Japanese paper. In the middle of the “parol” is a platform where a candle or two — or a small coconut-oil lamp — illuminates the lantern.

Nowadays, the Christmas parol takes different forms and designs, from simple five-pointed stars to colorful ones illuminated by kaleidoscopic electric lights.

Originally the parol was used not as a Christmas decoration but to light the way for those going to church for dawn mass, known as “Misa de Gallo” or “Rooster’s Mass” (indicating it is held at dawn when the rooster crows). Legend has it that the crowing of the rooster at the dawn of each morning symbolizes the daily triumph of light over darkness and the victory of good over evil. It signifies the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Christmas tradition of “Simbang Gabi” is a series of nine consecutive dawn masses that starts Dec. 16 and ends on Christmas Eve. It has been adopted by a lot of Catholic churches in different dioceses in Richmond, Arlington, Washington, D.C., California, New York, Chicago, Hawaii, New Jersey and other states and countries where a lot of Filipinos reside.

Another tradition is this “Noche Buena” on Christmas Eve. On this festive night, family and friends gather together around a dining table laden with food — caldo, macaroni salad, spaghetti, fruit salad, “lechon” or roasted pig, “pancit” or Chinese noodles, “lumpia” or egg rolls, “bibingka” or rice cakes, adobo (either chicken or pork), “arroz caldo,” macaroni salad, spaghetti, fruit salad, leche flan and more.

We enjoy food, friendship and fellowship, and we also exchange gifts, sing Christmas carols and play games. We go caroling from house to house, bringing glad tidings of “peace on Earth, goodwill to men.”

On Christmas Day, we attend Christmas Mass, then back home to eat leftover food from Noche Buena. Children go to their godparents’ homes to receive gifts. Other groups and families continue their merrymaking and partying, getting together with relatives near or far. Others go the mall or to the movies.

Christmas is a season of joy and hope, a time for family and friends getting together, sharing their joy and blessings.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk. Email him at