The Best Way To Celebrate Christmas in the Philippines

By Swathi Ramaswamy on Jan 08, 2019
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While Christmas is celebrated with different traditional customs and rituals all around the world, no one does it as unique and different as the Filipinos. They start their celebrations way back in September, which they call the ‘Ber’ months. It goes on until the Feast of the Three Kings a week after the New Year’s Day in January, thus making their celebrations the longest one in the world.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Christmas in the Philippines has its own cultural traditions, which the locals celebrate with utmost respect and dedication. The country upholds both the religious and festive aspects of the holiday season throughout its four-month long celebrations. 

Here are some of the unique events that are a must-know for anyone visiting the island country during Christmas:

1. Simbang Gabi or the novena of night masses

Simbang Gabi or the Night Mass starts on December 16 and climaxes in the Rooster Mass on December 24 midnight. It is an age-old Christmas custom practiced in the Philippines irrespective of the branch of Christian faith. Though mainly followed by Catholics and Aglipayans, it has also been adopted by the Protestant and Evangelical churches to celebrate the anticipation of Christ’s birth. Given the time of these masses are as early as around 2 AM to 3 AM, an unbelievable number of people gather in the Filipino churches to show devotion to their faith. The night masses are followed by quick community breakfasts in some parishes, which serve authentic Filipino dishes like Bibingka, putòbumbóng and Salabat among others.

2. Christmas on Display at Greenhills Shopping Centre

A Christmas tradition that started way back in 1957, the Christmas on Display has become an intrinsic part of the Christmas celebrations of the urban Filipino culture. When it first started, it was a small lighting decoration based on the holiday theme in a departmental store along Avenida. Now it has become a full-fledged festive celebration in the Greenhills Shopping Centre. Life-size mannequins playing out the nativity scene along with faux models of the whole village – people, trees, huts, and shops are set up, make the entire place look like a standstill theatre stage. It is one of the must-visit places of Christmas in the Philippines. Do not miss out on the firecrackers at night.

3. Christmas Lights and Sound at Ayala Triangle Garden

The Ayala Triangle Gardens is in itself a brilliant place to visit, with a patch of refreshing greenery amidst the sky-high concrete buildings, and numerous crisscrossing pathways to take a stroll. Come November; the garden decks up with a thousand shimmering and glittering lights to welcome the season of Christmas in the Philippines. The trees are entwined with streamers of lights, bright stars hand from the top branches, and the whole place lights up like a garden of paradise. The lights dance to the tunes of various familiar Christmas carol music all through the night. Families and groups of friends gather in the park to make the best of the holiday season and take some of the memories homes in their phone galleries.

4. The Giant Lantern Festival at San Fernando, Pampanga

The Giant Lantern Festival is yet another quintessential Christmas celebration of the Philippines. It started way back in the 1930s to show respect to the then Filipino President Manuel L. Quezon and the first family. But since then the festival has permeated through the political aspects and has been imbibed into the culture of the Philippines. Giant Lanterns made of bamboo and paper pieces, crafted with love and devotion by the local artists, are set up all-over Pampanga. It is the big annual Christmas event of the Philippines. The Giant Lantern Festival is not only a show but also a competition about whose lantern is the most beautiful in the procession.

The basic foundation of Christmas lanterns comes from the Filipino parols – the star-shaped lantern commemorating the Star of Bethlehem that symbolizes Philippine's light, hope, and dreams during the Christmas season. But the designs have evolved over time, forming different patterns, shapes, and designs that attract people from around the world to the festival. The paper lanterns are highlighted with light bulbs to give them a more colorful and attractive look. Carols are an important part of Filipino Christmas. 

5. Iwag Christmas Lights Festival at Pototan, Iloilo

The Iwag Festival takes place every year starting from December 16, the day of the beginning of the Simbang Gabi as well. Organized by the Municipality of Pototan, it is the very own Christmas light celebration of Iloilo. The entire Pototan plaza is decorated with blinking lights, and the festivities go on with cultural shows each night, stalls after stalls of food and beverages and agro-industrial fairs. The whole place looks like a scene taken straight from a book of fairy tales. 

There are tons of other local festivals and celebrations in every nook and corner of the island country of the Philippines. Don your Christmas spirit right and go around exploring the best of Christmas in the Philippines. 

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