Vendors sell lanterns at a Christmas decorations market in Manila
Dancing Filipino Traffic Cop in Santa Claus Costume Directs Traffic in Manila Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

As the world gets caught in the frenzy of the holiday rush, the Philippines has pretty much soaked up the Christmas spirit way ahead of the rest of the world. One of the most populous nations in Asia, the Philippines boasts of a long and lavish Christmas which is marked at the start of the “ber” months till the feast of the Three Kings, or the Sunday after January 1st.

This southeast Asian archipelago of 7,640 islands, has an overwhelmingly Christian population made up of approximately 80% Filipino Roman Catholics. While many countries are wrapped up in the commercial glow and jingle of Christmas, Filipinos celebrate the longest Christmas season embraced by their faith, love of family, and the commitment to gather and rejoice even in the most austere of times.

In one of six predominantly Christian countries in Asia, Filipinos have ingrained a psychological time clock to prepare for a full packed calendar of festivities between family, friends, and co-workers.

As soon as Sept 1 rolls in, radio stations and TV networks start playing Christmas music to usher in the holiday nostalgia. The Christmas season means a whole gamut of tradition for every Filipino. No matter where you are in life or whatever financial or social status you may be in, the heart of this festive season is always centered on faith and family.

Let’s take a closer look at how Filipinos celebrate the longest Christmas season in the world:

Simbang Gabi

Traditionally, Filipinos would attend a series of masses held at dawn for a period of nine days, known as Simbang Gabi. An influence acquired from the country’s 300 years of Spanish colonization between the 16th and 19th centuries. The 9-day novena mass culminates with a Misa de Gallo celebrated on the eve of Christmas, a tradition known to other Catholic countries as Christmas Eve Midnight Mass.

The Parol

Colorful “Parols” is an intrinsic part of Filipino Christmas as a Christmas tree is elemental to western Christmas culture. No Christmas is complete without the ubiquitous star-shaped lantern which is originally made with bamboo and Japanese colored paper or colored cellophane. Originally crafted by artisan Francisco Estanislao in 1928, the “parol” is a representation of how people used lanterns to light their paths while on their walk to attend Yuletide dawn masses. Since electricity was not available at the time in rural areas, the glow from the lanterns provided the guiding light in the darkness much as the star of Bethlehem guided the Three Kings to the stable.

Christmas Noche Buena And New Year’s eve Media Noche

After attending the Misa de Gallo, the family heads home to a Noche Buena table feast joyfully prepared by the family the entire day and shared till the wee hours of the morning.

New Year’s eve in the Philippines may yet hold the loudest celebrations in the world. Fireworks and firecrackers are big business ventures during this time as Filipinos come up each year with louder explosives. Filipinos make it a point to stay home and feast all day, blast the speakers, belt out their best in Karaoke, and just revel in the company of family.

The Filipino spirit of resilience

Christmas in this tropical country is not spared from untimely holiday typhoons and cyclones that leave behind a trail of destruction across the archipelago. But the Filipino spirit is waterproof and unsinkable. Despite the pandemic and the onslaught of unforgiving winds and torrential rain, the nation, and its people never lose hope and still manage to celebrate many Christmases nonetheless grateful and thankful for simple blessings.

File picture of a Christmas lantern
A motorized tricycle (bottom R) rides past a Christmas decorative lantern in Tacloban, in the central Philippines, on December 24, 2014. Thousands of residents of the typhoon-weary city of Tacloban in the mainly Catholic Philippines got ready on December 24 to mark their second Christmas in ruins following two giant storms. Photo by Marlon Tano/AFP via Getty Images

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