Major Christian holidays are observed and Muslim ones are observed in Muslim areas. Sites where miracles have taken place draw large crowds on Sundays and feast days. Easter is the most important Christian observance. On Easter weekend, almost the entire country is shut down from noon on Maundy Thursday until the morning of Black Saturday. Hospitals are open, but national television broadcasts, church services, and shops and restaurants are closed and public transportation is sparse. People stay at home or go to church. Special events take place on Good Friday. There are religious processions such as a parade of the statues of saints throughout the community. [Source:]

Baptism (“binyang”), conformation (“kumpil”) and marriage (“kasal”) are the most important life cycle events and they often involve unions of different families and are very important in the general social life.

New Year’s Day (January 1), Holy Thursday (also called Maundy Thursday, movable date in March or April), Good Friday (movable date in March or April), Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor, commonly called Bataan Day outside of the Philippines, April 9), Labor Day (May 1), Independence Day (June 12), National Heroes Day (last Sunday of August), Bonifacio Day (celebration of the birthday of Andres Bonifacio, November 30), Eid al Fitr (the last day of Ramadan, movable date), Christmas Day (December 25), Rizal Day (the date of the execution by the Spanish of José Rizal in 1896, December 30).

Filipinos set up small altars and chapels decorated with flowers in the spring during the Fiesta de Mayo, or festival of May 5 (traditionally a Mexican holiday celebrating their revolution). Bataan Day is an observation of the Bataan Death March on January 9, 1942. Independence Day on June 12 celebrates freedom from Spanish rule. It is celebrated with fiestas, parades, and fireworks. Sino-Filipinos celebrate the Chinese New Year, which is not a national holiday, in January or February. In Manila, fireworks and parades take place throughout Chinatown. Muslims celebrate Islamic festivals.

There is the Penefrancia celebration on the Naga River in Naga City, Bicol (September), and the Santo Nino procession (in honour of the baby Jesus) in Cebu, in addition to the church parades and processions in honour of Mary during the month of May. Probably the most famous celebration of the culture of indigenous peoples is Ati-atihan in Kalibo, Aklan, Panay Island (late January). There are similar celebrations in Iloilo (Dinagyang) and Cebu City (Sinulog) in the same month. One of the most beautiful and moving religious celebrations are the Missa de Gallo (cock-crow masses) each dawn on the nine days leading up to Christmas. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning]

Fiestas in the Philippines

Perhaps the single event most conducive to community solidarity each year is the fiesta. Celebrated on the special day of the patron saint of a town or barangay, the fiesta is a time for general feasting. Houses are opened to guests, and food is served in abundance. The fiesta always includes a Mass, but its purpose is unabashedly social. The biggest events include a parade, dance, basketball tournament, cockfights, and other contests, and perhaps a carnival, in addition to much visiting and feasting. Many festivals are linked to the Catholic Church and some combine traditions and beliefs that predate Christianity—many of them animist in nature— with ritual associated with the church.

Anne C. Kwaantes wrote in Christian Classics Etheral Library: “Everyone here agrees — Filipinos love fiestas. The word "fiesta" will bring a smile to the face of almost any Filipino. After all, a fiesta is a special time with friends, a time for fellowship, food, and lots of activities. Each year brings numerous fiestas. Sometimes people are busy for weeks preparing for them. It is surprising, how even those facing many problems in their day-to-day life set them aside and participate in the festivities. [Source: Anne C. Kwaantes, Fourum, Winter 2000, Christian Classics Etheral Library, pages 6, 7]

Every Catholic town in the Philippines celebrates an annual barangay, or 'barrio', fiesta in honor of their patron Catholic saint. During this period, there are large processions and parades throughout the town, with the saints, the mayordomo or sponsor of the fiesta, and school children marching through the settlement to band music or music played on a videocassette. In addition, each family visits other neighbors and relatives to share home-cooked, special 'feast' foods during the fiesta. In many coastal or riverine communities, fishers celebrate by carrying the image of the patron saint on boats in a fluvial procession to bless the waters and fish. The sacred days of the Roman Catholic calendar also affect traditional livelihoods. For example, Good Friday, the day Jesus Christ was crucified, even today is considered a 'taboo' day for fishermen. It is an omen of terrible fates, and fishers fear for their lives if they go out fishing on that day. In the past, every Friday was deemed to be a risky day to go fishing, but these beliefs have been modified over time.

Fiestas, Spain and the Catholic Church in the Philippines

Anne C. Kwaantes wrote in Christian Classics Etheral Library: “What actually are fiestas and why do these celebrations occur? The fiesta is of Spanish origin (the reason for the Spanish term). Spain, being a Roman Catholic country, set aside certain days to remember particular saints with processions and celebrations. When Spanish missionaries entered the Philippines during the mid-1500s, they found that the fiesta was a convenient tool to help teach Filipinos the Roman Catholic faith. From the very beginning Spaniards brought missionaries to the Islands. The Spanish wanted to christianize the people, as well as colonize the country. The missionaries tried to attract the people, who lived in widespread areas, to the towns where there were Roman Catholic churches. Missionaries hoped and expected that people would be drawn to and participate in the colorful processions and religious dramas. [Source: Anne C. Kwaantes, Fourum, Winter 2000, Christian Classics Etheral Library, pages 6, 7 ***]

“Today, there are fiestas throughout the Philippines to celebrate events in the life of Jesus and Mary, and to honor saints who lived long ago. When the Spaniards came, many communities were given names of saints. Nearly all towns have a patron saint to remember. The last nine mornings before Christmas throngs crowd the churches for predawn masses, the misa de aguinaldo (mass of the gift). The climax comes at midnight, December 24, when at the misa de gallo (mass of the rooster) Christ's birth is celebrated. Following that, people visit their parental homes for an elaborate dinner. Here grandchildren receive money from grandparents. The next morning, December 25, is quiet. The people sleep. ***

“The celebration of Jesus' suffering and death is a bigger event than Christmas. Filipinos normally go to mass on Ash Wednesday and receive ashes on their forehead from the officiating priest. On Palm Sunday, cleverly woven palms are bought and blessed at church, and then later brought home. Many rituals are observed as Holy Week continues. The passion story is chanted from booths temporarily constructed along the streets. In the cities some people drag heavy crosses along the road. Others walk along the streets whipping themselves to fulfill a vow to God or to do penance. On Thursday, all those who can, return to their home town. Every year on Good Friday, some individuals allow themselves to be publicly and openly crucified for some minutes. The country comes to a standstill. ***

“On Easter morning, the meeting of Jesus and his mother, Mary, is acted out in church services and in public dramas. Yet, in the Filipino setting, the resurrection of Jesus is far less important than his suffering and death. Paradoxically, at the same time that people remember the suffering Christ, they also gather with their families to eat and drink in a festive mood. A further paradox is found in the crucifix, a cross with Christ hanging on it. The typical Protestant cross, in striking contrast is empty. It eloquently declares that Christ is risen. ***

“Town fiestas have many faces. They usually feature a mass and a procession. Long after the religious ritual is completed, people eat, drink, and enjoy the rest of the day. Unfortunately, all too often excessive drinking mars the festivities. Each year towns located on the sea have their own unique processions. Perhaps the most famous is the feast of Our Lady of Penafranca, in Naga City, approximately 450 kms. southeast of Manila. Here a flower-decked raft with a shrine to Mary is floated down the river. Another famous fiesta is the annual three-day festival in Obando, Bulacan, just north of Manila. The procession for this festival is particularly famous because of its special dances of childless couples, who believe that these dances will fulfill their wishes and prayers for a child. It is also said that the "lovelorn suitors" come here to pray for a wife. Young women also come to pray for a husband. ***

“The fiesta — always colorful, always accompanied by music, feasting, and Roman Catholic ritual — takes an important place in a town's calendar. But where did the Philippine fiesta really have its origin? Did zealous Roman Catholic missionaries initiate this practice? Very likely Filipinos adapted p r e -Hispanic rituals to fit Spanish Roman Catholic colonial demands. Filipinos often did this. An ancient Filipino fertility rite, for instance, probably survives in the Obando fiesta though today it passes simply for a Roman Catholic festival. The traditional dance steps seem to pre-date the arrival of Spanish missionaries. The procession of a fiesta in Laguna, southeast of Manila, includes dancers who crouch, shake their shoulders, and imitate handicapped people. It is thought the practice goes back to the distant past when handicapped people looked for healing from priestess healers. ***

“Early in the Spanish period (1565-1898), existing folk rituals seem often to have been combined with what the missionaries were trying to teach. According to Roman Catholic scholars, after some three hundred years of Spanish presence in the Philippines, most of the pre-Spanish features of the festivals have faded. The fiestas have become Filipino Roman Catholic feasts.

Protestant Church and Fiestas in the Philippines

Anne C. Kwaantes wrote in Christian Classics Etheral Library: “One hundred years ago the first Protestant missionaries came to the Philippines. What impact did Protestantism have on the fiesta! How have Protestants responded to it? Some Filipino Protestants insist that the fiesta has become merely a social event. Relatives and townspeople meet and enjoy a holiday together. The original honoring of the saints has been largely forgotten. Some evangelical Christians, however, want nothing to do with the town fiesta. They make other plans for the day and stay far away from the festivities. Still other Protestants try to use the fiestas to keep Christian traditions alive, as did the early Roman Catholic Spaniards. The majority of evangelical Christians do not want to be part of the town fiesta as most Filipinos celebrate it. There are, however, creative ways of giving a biblical significance to the day. Some Christian families prepare food, invite guests to their homes, and use the occasion to visit together and to give thanks to God. One of the participating families often prepares leaflets with meditations and prayers of thanksgiving. [Source: Anne C. Kwaantes, Fourum, Winter 2000, Christian Classics Etheral Library, pages 6, 7 ***]

“The United Church of Christ, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the Philippines, holds Reformation lectures during the month of October. In this way the church reminds its members of the meaning of the Protestant Reformation. The Christian Reformed Church in the Philippines (CRCP), a sister denomination of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, celebrates Reformation Day annually in several denominational centers. People gather for worship, singing and drama. Reminiscent of the fiesta, eating together is part of the celebration. Some CRCP congregations also observe predawn services during the nine days before Christmas. Again, worship, fellowship and breakfast together strengthen the Christian character of the event. ***

“In time, will the original purpose of the fiesta be forgotten if new meaning is poured into these days of celebration? Should Protestant Christians celebrate something other than what the townspeople celebrate in a fiesta or should they set aside such festivities altogether because they do more harm than good? One cannot help but note that young people in North America often party enthusiastically in churches on Halloween. Reformed families in America also enjoy decorating a Christmas tree, even though Christmas trees originally were mid-winter symbols of fertility in Europe. In the missionary context another question inevitably arises: What approach should missionaries take when confronted with practices such as the fiesta? Should the cross-cultural missionary make decisions about such matters, or should new Christians themselves decide them for their own people? These questions remain for your contemplation. ***

Why Fiestas are Important to Filipinos

According to “The whole year round Philippine fiestas of all kinds mark the Filipino calendar. Not only popular saints but also the most obscure ones are given a place for celebration. Why has this practice been imbedded in the Filipino culture? To appease the gods—this was a key factor in ancient worship in the Philippines. Mystical religious beliefs before the Spaniards came centered on worshipping gods believed to control certain aspects of life—livelihood, family, health, wealth, and others. To make life better, the belief said, regular ritual offerings to these gods had to be done. The gods seemed quickly angered by the smallest mistakes and vented wrath on livelihood and nature. The practice was somehow carried over into modern times so that one reason still used for Philippine fiestas is to stave off calamities and ill luck, aside from thanksgiving for good harvest, and ask lots of wishes.[Source: +]

“A pledge. Philippine fiestas are like capital poured into investments. They have to be celebrated grandly to ensure good life ahead. The bigger money poured out for a Philippine fiesta the surer the return of investment (ROI). So, for a higher ROI a devotee should spend more to celebrate a fiesta. Smaller investments result to smaller yields. If one wishes for more harvests from fields or the sea, or more luck in business or employment, or physical healing, or more rain, then one ought to dole out more quality meals in a fiesta celebration. If one’s really financially hard-up, then the alternative is to have active parts in the celebration—dance in the streets, help carry or pull a mounted statue, help in the fiesta preparations, or plain behave well throughout the celebration. And here’s the key to all these: the devotee has to pledge or promise to keep this going each annual Philippine fiesta.” +

“Finally, Philippine fiestas have been “balik-bayan” incentives, or come-ons for expatriates, to visit or come back for good to the municipalities or cities celebrating them. Since pre-Hispanic times, Filipinos have been known to live in other countries. Later, they ventured to farther places like the US and Europe. Philippine fiestas lure them back to reminisce old times and be also celebrated in the community as overseas “heroes.” Philippine fiestas are as many as there are sitios (districts) and barangays and cities and provinces in the Philippines. And they’re here to stay to keep Filipinos reaching out to the future as they stake out in the present while reminiscing the past.” +

Philippine Fiesta Games

On fiesta games: Philippinesinsider reports: “Philippinefiestas are a lot of fun. In general these fiestas include native sports which are referred today as games. Let’s take a look at them. The most popular Philippine fiesta game is “Palasebo” or the lard hobby. Allegedly, this used to be an athletic training technique which later evolved into a native community pastime. A tall bamboo standing in the middle of an open space is lavished with lard or oil from top to bottom. A small flag is placed on top. The idea is to have one contestant climb the pole without any climbing implement, and half naked. Moreover, contestants of this Philippine fiesta game must have their bodies poured with oil to further toughen up the climb. At times they have all contestants simultaneously climb the pole. The lone survivor to take the flag down is champion of this Philippine fiesta game. [Source: +]

“Hitting the hanging earthen pot, or “Palayok” is another favorite Philippine fiesta game. This can well pass for a Zen meditation technique but for the noisy crowd around. A small earthen pot is hanged through a net in the middle of a wide open space. The contestant of this Philippine fiesta game is blindfolded and given a small wooden bat. The idea is to find the way to the pot and hit it solid to break it. The net secures the broken pieces from flying away and hitting someone. At times this Philippine fiesta game varies a bit and the hanging pot is made to dangle for a more challenging hit.

Breaking lose several pigs in a secured perimeter is another Philippine fiesta game. The ground is kept muddy and the male contestants are topless. The idea is to go after the pigs and at least catch one and bring it to the judges. This Philippine fiesta game is a lot of mess but everybody enjoys it. +

“Another is “Pabitin” or hanging dole outs. This Philippine fiesta game uses a mat of bamboo sticks forming a flat lift. It is suspended in the air. Lots of goodies and toys hang from it, practically covering it. Children stand below waiting for it to be randomly lowered and raised. As the flat lift is lowered the kids jump to grab what they can from the goodies. Then it is raised again for another round. +

Despedida Parties

Despedida parties (going away parties) are big events in the Philippines. In 2007 ScarletRaven wrote on Yahoo Answers: “We usually throw despedida parties for newly resigned comrades (at work), friends leaving for another country or anybody leaving to go anywhere real far for good. When my friends and I throw despedida parties for someone, we usually reserve big function rooms and arrange for buffet catering. Of course, we have to have the prerequisite Magic Sing and a significant gift for the one who's leaving. The gift usually depends on the character and interests of the person leaving.” [Source: Yahoo Answers \^/]

Jumpin' in the Dark wrote: “A despedida party is held for someone who will be away for a long time, like an emigrant. There are no hard and fast rules, just have your mutual friends and other loved ones and have some food and drinks handy. Some people either give gifts either individually or as a group that the honoree could take along as a remembrance. Despedida is a "farewell" or "good journey" kind of a party. The celebrant usually goes away for a long period of time. Its like a last time to spend with a friend/family while he/she is still near your place. A "despedida" (or a "going-away" party or a "saying goodbye" party) should be celebrated with food, drinking, music and dancing. And if you care to, gifts are also appropriate and would be much appreciated by the honoree.” \^/

Another Filipino posted: “Despedida is a party for someone who will be away for a long time. it's like a good luck party! It's a going away party for just about any reason. For example, if someone quit his job, his officemates may throw a party for him. Same thing if someone is leaving the country. How do you throw one? Just a normal party. Foods, drinks, hugs. Ithink they throw despedida party to someone who's going overseas and will stay there for a very long time. I think a good drinking session in front of a videoke is a good way of celebrating one.” \^/

All Saints Day in the Philippines

Christian Filipinos customarily remember, honor, and pay respect to the dead on All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2). The grave sites are cleaned, visited, and adorned by family members, relatives and friends on the eve of November 1, to stay at the cemetery, to light candles, to pray, to lay flowers, and bring food for the consumption of the attendees. Others, like the Ilocano’s, offer food for the dead. Some children habitually gather candle wax during this time for the purpose of play or reselling to candle makers.

All Saint's Day (1 November) is a national holiday to honor the dead. Grave sites are cleared of debris and repaired. Families meet at the cemetery and stay throughout the twenty-four hours. Candles and flowers are placed on the graves. Food and memories are shared, and prayers are offered for the souls of the dead. When a family member visits a grave during the year, pebbles are placed on the grave to indicate that the deceased has been remembered. On October 31 children in rural villages in the Philippines often go house to house asking for small sums of money — a traditional almsgiving. Filipino families also spend much of the evening visiting their ancestral graves, showing respect and honor to their departed relatives by feasting and offering prayers.

John M. Glionna wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Each November, many of the residents of this largely Roman Catholic country visit cemeteries to observe the religious festivals of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. The two-day event includes music and socializing, bringing a festive atmosphere to grounds usually associated with an eerie quiet and calm. October is a busy month” at Norte, Manila’s largest cemetery. “Laborers scramble to clean up Norte before visitors arrive for the religious holidays. The streets are swept and scoured, mausoleums painted, the legions of orphaned beggar children chased away. The traditional gifts that families leave behind at the graves — cooked meats, apples, oranges and pears — are scavenged by Norte's families. In this graveyard ghetto, such precious sustenance cannot go wasted. [Source: John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2006]

Professor Susan Russell at Northern Illinois University wrote: “ Death is always an occasion that marks a society's traditions, and in the Philippines funerals are usually accompanied by somber village processions and music, essential parts of Roman Catholic ritual practice. Filipino indigenous religious beliefs traditionally celebrated rice planting and harvesting times, the death anniversaries of departed ancestors, and these have been blended in meaning and timing with Catholic rites such as All Saint's Day and Fiesta de Mayo. In this kind of religious syncretism, blending the rites and meaning of two totally separate societies, the outcome is often a surprise rather than a foregone conclusion. [Source: Professor Susan Russell, Department of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University,]

Christmas in the Philippines

Christmas is celebrated in a manner that blends Catholic, Chinese, Philippine, and American customs. For nine days, people attend misas de gallo (early morning Christmas Mass). They hang elaborate lanterns (originally patterned after the Chinese lanterns) and other decorations in their homes and join with friends in caroling. On Christmas Eve, everyone attends midnight Mass, the climax of the misas de gallo and the year's high point of church attendance. After the service, it is traditional to return home for a grand family meal. The remaining days of the Christmas season are spent visiting kin, especially on New Year's Day and Epiphany, January 6. The Christmas season is a time of visiting and receiving guests. It is also a time for reunion with all types of kin — blood, affinal, and ceremonial. Children especially are urged to visit godparents. *

It is said that Filipinos celebrate the world’s longest religious holiday—their Christmas season. The Philippine Christmas season begins on September 1st, as chillier winds and Christmas carols start filling the air, and ends on the first week of January, during the Feast of the Three Kings. Paskuhan Village in the province of Pampanga is Asia’s only Christmas theme park and the third of its kind in the world. The great Christmas lanterns of San Fernando, Pampanga can reach as big as 40 feet in diameter, using as many as 16,000 glowing bulbs.

Christmas customs in the Philippines are a mixture of western and native Filipino traditions. People in the Philippines have Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas cards and Christmas carols from western countries! They also have their own Christmas traditions such as the 'parol' which is a bamboo pole or frame with a lighted star lantern on it. It's traditionally made from bamboo strips and colored Japanese paper or cellophane paper and represents the star that guided the Wise Men. It is the most popular Christmas decoration in the Philippines. [Source:]

The Philippines has eight major languages, here's how to say Merry Christmas in some of them! In Tagalog, Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Maligayang Pasko'; in Ilonggo it's 'Malipayon nga Pascua'; in Sugbuhanon or Cebuano it's 'Maayong Pasko'; in Bicolano they say 'Maugmang Pasko' and in Pangalatok or Pangasinense they say 'Maabig ya pasko' or 'Magayagan inkianac'. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages. [Ibid]

Christmas in the Philippines is known as Pasko. The Tagalog word Pasko derives from the Spanish word Pascua. Although the word Pascua means Easter, Pascua de Navidad refers to Christmas. [Source:]

Long Philippines Christmas Season

The Christmas season is very long in the Philippines. Beginning in September radio stations begin playing Christmas carols, kids start making their wish lists and stores starting selling Christmas decorations. Beginning in early November commercial streets and neighborhoods start putting up their Christmas lights, displaying nativity scenes known as “belen” and hanging traditional colorful lanterns known as “parol”. December is actually one of the 'cooler' months of the year in the Philippines. The Philippines only has two real seasons, wet (June to October) and dry (April and May). December is one of the months in between the wet and dry seasons.

The four months that end with the syllable –ber are considered Christmas months, which is why stores and households start playing carols on the first day of September! The formal Christmas celebrations start on 16th December when many people go the the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses. The last mass is on Christmas day. The Christmas celebrations continue to the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings (Tatlong Hari) which falls around January 6, or the First Sunday in January. Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season. Children are given gifts and told they come from the Three Wise Men. Stars-shaped lanterns are hung in windows.

Christmas Eve is very important in the Philippines. Many people stay awake all night into Christmas day! During Christmas Eve evening, Christians go to church to hear the last 'simbang gabi' or the Christmas Eve mass. This is followed by a midnight feast, called Noche Buena. The Noche Buena is a big, open house, celebration with family, friends and neighbors dropping in to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Most households would have several dishes laid out and would normally include: lechon (roasted pig), ham, fruit salad, rice cakes (bibingka and puto bumbong are traditional Christmas foods) and other sweets, steamed rice, and many different types of drinks. [Source:]

Anne C. Kwaantes wrote in Christian Classics Etheral Library: “The last nine mornings before Christmas throngs crowd the churches for predawn masses, the misa de aguinaldo (mass of the gift). The climax comes at midnight, December 24, when at the misa de gallo (mass of the rooster) Christ's birth is celebrated. Following that, people visit their parental homes for an elaborate dinner. Here grandchildren receive money from grandparents. The next morning, December 25, is quiet. The people sleep. [Source: Anne C. Kwaantes, Fourum, Winter 2000, Christian Classics Etheral Library, pages 6, 7]

Filipino Christmas Traditions

Many Filipino yuletide traditions have their roots from the Spanish colonial era. The Misa de Gallo, for example, is a pre-dawn mass celebrated during the nine days preceding Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the final Christmas mass is celebrated with much ceremony, color and lights. The midnight mass on Christmas Eve with its rituals dates back to the period when mass was still said in Latin. At the Misa de Gallo mass the story behind the birth of Christ is read from the Bible. [Source: ]

Mostly Catholics, Filipinos begin a novena (a series of nine masses) on December 16th. The masses are part of the cherished religious tradition of Simbang Gabi, which literally means “Night Worship.” Filipinos go to church at four o’clock in the morning and afterward have breakfast together. A traditional drink during this season is a warm ginger tea called salabat and a traditional treat is a flat but thick yellow rice cake called bibingka. [Source: /+/]

It is also customary for Filipino families to sit down to a feast on Christmas Eve after the Christmas Eve mass. Called the Noche Buena, the feast is in part a thanksgiving for the blessings of the year past, as well as a prayerful feast for a prosperous year to come. Traditionally on every table are the jamon (ham) and queso de bola (cheese). Every Filipino looks forward to Noche Buena. Christmas morning is the time for visiting relatives. Filipinos wear new if not their best clothes. Children do mano, which is kissing or bringing to their forehead the hand of an elderly person. This is when they receive their pamasko, certainly aguinaldo from godfathers and godmothers. Christmas lunch and Christmas dinner are with family. /+/

On Christmas Eve (Bisperas ng Pasko), a few Filipino towns commemorate Joseph and Mary’s search for a place to stay with a reenactment called panunuluyan, a tradition very similar to the Mexican posadas. During the Panunuluyan pageant on Christmas Eve, a couple is chosen to reenact Joseph and Mary's search for shelter. Mass is held hourly on Christmas Day so that everyone can attend. Religious services include pastore, or play, based on myth of the birth of the Christ Child. The pastore closes with a star from the upper part of the church sliding down a wire and coming to rest over the church's Nativity scene. Christmas celebrations may have evolved from old tribal custom Serenading cumbancheros, or strolling ministrels, end their performances by singing Maligayang Pasko to the tune of "Happy Birthday". The monito-monita, roughly translated to mean secret friend, traces its roots to the Western folklore of Saint Nick, or Santa Claus, or Kris Kringle. In offices and schools, the tradition of giving gifts to friends has become a tradition.

Christmas Parol Lanterns

Another tradition is the hanging of lanterns in front of the house. Not content with having a Christmas tree (green, white or aluminum - it doesn't really matter), the Filipino home will not be found without a parol (lantern) during the Christmas season. Traditional parols are usually made with colored paper and bamboo sticks, usually fitted with lighting devices or lightbulbs to bring out colors during the evening. San Fernando in Pampanga, a province northwest of Manila, is famous for making lanterns that produce a kaleidoscope of colors through an ingenious lighting system that relies on bulbs switching on and off in a programmed sequence. [Source: ]

Parol lanterns are circular in shape and look sort of like shields. The often have a five-pointed star, snowman or angel in the middle and are comprised of bamboo or plastic frames decorated with bamboo and shell ornaments and illuminated with colored lights They are hung outside houses, displayed in offices and placed in gardens and are regarded as the Filipino alternative to Christmas trees.

The word “parol” is a Tagalong adaption of the Spanish word for lantern. Parol lanterns were introduced from Spain via Mexico and were originally used to light the path of worshipers attending early morning mass during the Christmas season. Parols sell from as little as 15 cents to as much as $200. San Fernando, a town about 70 kilometers from Manila, is regarded as the main parol making center on the Philippines.

According to “If Mexico has piñatas, the Philippines has its parol. Of course, a parol is not something to hit with a stick. It is a Christmas lantern, most commonly in the shape of a five-pointed star. The bamboo or rattan frame is covered with rice paper, tissue or cellophane. Almost every family either builds or buys one to hang by the window or door. Shopping malls construct giant versions of parol. Traditionally, a candle was placed inside for light to shine through; for safety reasons, people now use bulbs or even a flashlight. Families, schools and other places also display a creche or nativity scene called belen. Christmas trees made of plastic are decorated with lights, tinsel and balls. [Source:]

Christmas Gift-Giving and Foods

Christmas morning sees children setting out to visit their godparents. It is customary for Filipino children to kiss the hands (mano) of their godparents on Christmas Day. Godparents, in turn, have gifts (aguinaldo) waiting for the children. Older children are equally fond of giving and receiving gifts. The Filipino's penchant for taking Western practices and imbibing them into their own can be seen in their gift-giving practices. [Source:]

The Tagalog word for gift is regalo, but Filipinos have a special word for "Christmas gift" — pamasko. The Filipino version of Secret Santa is called Monito Monita or Kris Kringle. Students in their classes and office workers all hold gift exchanges during the Christmas season. Children receive fresh bills of money called aginaldo, usually when they visit their godparents and elderly relatives on Christmas morning. [Source:]

Epiphany on the first Sunday of January marks the end of the Christmas season. Children are given gifts and told they come from the Three Wise Men. Stars-shaped lanterns are hung in windows.

Bibingka is a favorite Christmas food. CNN reported: “For many Filipinos, Christmas is marked by the scent of bibingkas cooking at dawn. These rice cakes are made by soaking the rice overnight, grinding it with a mortar stone and mixing in coconut milk and sugar. Laborious. The batter is poured into clay pots with banana leaves, with coals on top and below. It's garnished with salted eggs, kesong puti (white cheese made from Carabao’s milk) and slathered with butter, sugar and grated coconut. Best eaten hot from weekend markets. The best one is from Aling Linda at the Sidcor Sunday Market at Centris Mall, Edsa,Quezon City. For the rest of the week, try Via Mare or Ferino’s Bibingka with branches all over Metro Manila. [Source: Maida Pineda, Candice Lopez-Quimpo, CNN March 6, 2012 ]

Christmas Economic Activity in the Philippines

It is perhaps the tradition of generosity and celebration that has led most economic analysts to expect the economy to perk up during the Christmas season. For companies operating in the Philippines, not giving a Christmas bonus by late November or early December is equivalent to a major corporate faux pas, and is a definite no-no if one wants to cultivate loyalty and goodwill among employees. [Source: ]

Spurred by increased spending by a population that is relatively cash-rich during late November through December, stores normally experience brisk business during the season. It is no wonder then, that malls pour substantial amounts of money toward making their stores more attractive and "Christmas-y" during the season.

In recent years, this tradition of gift-giving has given rise to an entire cottage industry which transforms shopping centers out of usually empty hallways and vacant lots. Called the tiangge, these are actually flea markets that sprout during the Christmas season. The more famous ones are in the Greenhills shopping center in San Juan and in Divisoria in Central Manila. In these flea markets, one will find inexpensive gift items that can be haggled down to bargain prices. It is not uncommon for shoppers to buy in bulk in these flea markets. These have become so popular that even some five-star hotels have ventured into holding tiangges in their function halls.

Fifteen Unique Filipino Christmas traditions

Isagani Casimiro wrote in the Manila Bulletin, “It is true. There is “Joy to the World” within the context of Philippine Christmas tableau starting on the first “ber” month, on Christmas Day itself and its conclusion on the Feast of the Magi. Ours is the longest celebration of the Messiah’s birth on Earth. It is always filled with colors, lights, songs, dances, foods and drinks for the occasion. And these: joy, kindness, forgiveness and [Source: Isagani Casimiro, Manila Bulletin December, 15, 2013]

1) Government and private company employees get their bonuses plus add-ons like a basket of Noche Buena goodies, red wines and a bric-a-brac of souvenir items. 2) Ceasefire is upheld and observed between warring groups in some regions of the country even for a while before and after Christmas. 3) Individuals, families or clans with relational, business or political gaps make hugs-and-kisses and forgive-and-forget the past. 4) Neighbours and even strangers greet Merry Christmas sincerely with a smile. 5) Private organizations, companies and individuals who opt to remain anonymous or incognito come to orphanages, infirmaries, prisons, government hospitals and slum areas to bring joy and gifts of food, toys, candies, Bibles, clothes, clutches, wheelchairs and medicines by the truckloads.

6) People do volunteerism like babysitting so a friend can do her shopping, fixing the faucet or doing repair on the roof of a neighbour’s house and the like. 7) Children are immensely happy because they are in their best clothes and shoes on this day. They pay respect by kissing the hands of their godparents, grandparents, uncles and aunts and thank them for the traditional gifts of money and toys. 8) Churches, schools, government and corporate buildings, highways, avenues, streets, bridges, homes, gardens, trees and electrical posts are brightly embellished with all kinds of Christmas lanterns, Christmas lights and other decorations and ornaments. 9) Seniors, too, are happy because their loved ones from faraway places visit them with gifts. 10) Christmas carolling and Christmas carols on the radio stimulate the air.

11) Bibingkang galapong and puto bumbong that abound in many places in provinces and cities on the occasion of the coming of Christmas add to the yuletide festive ambience. 12) There is street dancing on Christmas Eve in many places in the city. 13) Churches are filled to the rafters on the Eve of Christmas and the whole day of the 25th December. 14) Families gather for the Noche Buena meal on Christmas Eve which is always the occasion to open their Christmas gifts. 15) Our climate is super fine which is a plus factor for children to make their rounds of Christmas visitation to their godparents and relatives.

New Year in the Philippines

New Year's Day is celebrated with a feast of roast sucking pig and the lighting of firecrackers. It is often more of a family holiday than Christmas. It is combined with Rizal Day on 30 December to provide time for people to go home to their province. Midnight on New Year's Eve brings an outburst of firecrackers and gunfire from randomly aimed firearms.

New Year Superstitions: 1) Wear a polka-dot shirt or dress to prosperity on New Year’s Eve to attract prosperity the whole year round. 2) Exploding firecrackers and ringing bells at the stroke of midnight on New Year will bring good luck. 3) If the first sound one hears at the stroke of midnight is a dog barking or a cock crowing, the coming year will be gloomy for such is an omen of financial difficulties ahead, sickness, typhoons and other calamities. But if the first sound is that of a goat, a cow or a carabao (water buffalo), the year ahead will be prosperous. 4) On New Year one must refrain from buying a lot of things, instead one must save money to increase one’s savings the whole year. 5) Merchants should sell their wares at a low price during New Year to attract more business. 6) Raining on New Year means prosperity and a bountiful harvest for the year. 7) Everyone must rise early and keep busy on New Year. 8) Whatever one does on New Year, whether constructive or counter-productive, will determine how he will fare for the rest of the year. [Source: , March 6, 2012 ^*^]

The Philippines is home to one of the world's most riotous and dangerous New Year’s Eve celebrations. Health officials have attempted to discourage the use of dangerous fireworks by showing gory pictures of injuries, including hands mangled by firecracker blasts. The national police chief has threatened his men with dismissal if they fire their guns in revelry. According to Associated Press: “Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year's celebrations drive away evil and misfortune. But they have carried that superstition to extremes, exploding huge firecrackers and firing guns to welcome the new year despite threats of arrest. Although the number of injuries has tapered off in recent years, largely due to hard economic times and government scare campaigns, the figures remain alarming. The scare campaigns include television advertisements with doctors displaying brutal-looking surgical saws and cleavers used in amputating hands and fingers of firecracker blast victims. Also in December, a top health official danced in schools and other public areas to South Korean rapper Psy's Youtube hit, the "Gangnam Style" video, to get attention and preach against firecracker use, specially by children. [Source: Associated Press, January 1, 2013 |=| ]

According to AFP, “It is a belief in the mostly Catholic nation that making noise to welcome the New Year drives evil spirits away and ushers in good luck. But many take it to the extreme by firing guns into the air and letting off powerful firecrackers despite a government ban. In 2012, two children were killed by stray bullets while more than 400 people were injured. The deaths had triggered widespread public calls for stricter gun controls in a country with a thriving black market for guns where unlicensed pistols can be bought for as little as $100. By law, shops are only allowed to stocks small fireworks but many still sell large ones that could maim or kill if not handled properly. [Source: AFP, ABC, December 31, 2013]

On New Year’s Eve, “last minute customers rushed to buy their supplies, ignoring government calls for solemn celebrations. "It will not be complete without firecrackers. It's a family tradition and we can't stop it just like that," Jepy Roxas said. Among the favourites are "Judas' belt", named after the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ, which consists of a string of triangular crackers that pop like machine gunfire when set off. A longer version, known by the Filipino word for python, is wrapped around lamp posts or trees to be set off minutes before the clock strikes midnight.

New Year's Gunfire, Firecrackers Injure 400 in Philippines in 2013

More than 400 people were hurt by powerful firecrackers and gunfire in New Year's Eve celebrations in the Philippines, down 17 percent from a year earlier but still high enough to make it one of Asia's most violent parties to welcome 2013. Associated Press reported: “Health Secretary Enrique Ona said Tuesday that the 413 wounded and hurt included a child who was hit in the head by a stray bullet fired by an unidentified person at the height of New Year's revelry in suburban Caloocan city in metropolitan Manila. The 7-year-old girl is fighting for her life. "The bullet's still embedded in her head," Ona told a news conference. "It looks like she may not be saved." [Source: Associated Press, January 1, 2013 |=| ]

“Police said another child was accidentally hit by a shell fired by a homemade shotgun and died during celebrations in Mandaluyong city, also in the Manila region, but health officials said they have not received the details of the incident and could not immediately include the death in their casualty list. Ona said the 17-percent drop in gunshot wounds and firecracker injuries "is still not enough." As an example, he said one man had his hand blown off in an accident while lighting a huge, prohibited firecracker called "Goodbye Philippines," while at least eight people were hit by celebratory gunfire. |=|

“The large number of firecracker injuries came despite a police crackdown that led to the arrests of more than 300 vendors and users of illegally huge firecrackers in Manila and elsewhere ahead of New Year's Eve. The crackdown, however, was marred by an incident where several policemen were seen on video helping themselves to boxes of confiscated illegal firecrackers shortly after these were shown to reporters at a news conference in the capital over the weekend. The policemen could face administrative charges or dismissal.” |=|

On the pre-New year’s Eve celebrating AFP reported: “Philippine authorities say more than 260 people have been injured by fireworks or stray bullets in the days leading up to New Year's Eve. The victims included an eight-year-old boy in the central city of Cebu who lost his right hand due to a powerful firecracker and a 40-year-old woman in Manila with an accidental gun wound. The Health Department says fireworks have injured 253 people while eight others were hit by stray bullets. It warns that more injuries or even deaths are expected as the country greets the New Year in typically noisy fashion. Spokesman Eric Tayag says they are bracing for "50-80 fireworks related injuries every hour in the 12-hour period" before and after midnight. [Source: AFP, ABC, December 31, 2013]

Firecracker and Gunfire Injuries During Philippine New Year 2012

Fireworks and gunfire during New Year’s Eve injured hundreds of people. Jill Reilly wrote in the Daily Mail, “Hundreds of the injured, including children, filled hospital emergency rooms in the capital Manila shortly after midnight. Health Secretary Enrique Ona said the number of injuries - 454 from firecracker blasts and 18 from stray bullets fired into the air in celebrations - was slightly lower than last year but remained alarming. 'Again, it seems our appeal to mothers to keep their children away from firecrackers wasn't effective,' Ona said. About a dozen flights were diverted or cancelled early today after dark smog caused by a night of firework explosions obscured visibility at Manila's airport, officials said. [Source: Jill Reilly, Daily Mail, January 1, 2012]

“Dozens of hospitals went on full alert before midnight, their emergency rooms staffed with trauma doctors as if preparing for civil strife. Many people spent the night in hotels for added safety. Adding to the chaos, two gangs clashed in front of Manila's main government hospital attending to the injured, leaving one man dead from a gunshot wound. Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said at least 65 people were arrested for using illegally large firecrackers. Ona said he was willing to consider a proposal for a total ban on firecrackers but that it needed to be studied.” [Ibid]

AFP and ABS-CBN News reported: “The Philippines brought in the New Year in custom rowdy fashion with festivities marred by injuries from firecrackers and celebratory gunfire, as well as blazes across Manila. The Health Department said that 546 Filipinos were taken to various hospitals as the clock struck midnight, when millions across the superstitious country exploded firecrackers in the belief that making noise will drive evil spirits away. "As of this morning, we have 546 injuries that were seen in our different sentinel hospitals, and this is 19 percent higher than the previous 5 years on the average and 7 percent higher if compared to last year," Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Mario Villaverde said. [Source: AFP,, January 1, 2012 ~]

“A total of 518 cases account for firecracker-related injuries, mostly in the National Capital Region. "Out of the 17 regions, NCR reported the highest cases," Villaverde said. "We have 95 percent of all these injuries related to fireworks. Four percent were related to stray bullets and 1 percent is due to ingestion of firecrackers," he said. Thirty-three percent of total cases of firecracker-related injuries involved children with ages 1 to 10 years old. One firecracker-related death was recorded, but this is "an intentional suicide, intentional ingestion of a firecracker," according to the DOH. Officials attribute the huge number of cases to the proliferation of cheap, locally-produced “piccolo” firecracker, the number of bystanders, and the number of people drinking alcohol while using firecrackers. ~

“Twenty victims of stray bullets were recorded across the country, 16 in Metro Manila. Three people, meanwhile, died due to stray bullets. There were one fatality each in Pangasinan, Davao, and Taguig City. Seventeen-year-old Francisco Corpuz was hit by a stray bullet around past midnight in Barangay Carmen in Rosales, Pangasinan. A stray bullet also claimed the life of a 20-year-old mine worker at the Diwalwal mining area in Barangay Diwata, Monkayo, Compostela Valley, authorities said. Joran Bat-ongon, a resident of Esperanza in Agusan del Sur, was standing near a window to watch a fireworks display when suddenly he was hit by a bullet in his chest. Meanwhile, Myrna Moreno also died after being hit by a stray bullet in Taguig. Her daughter Janet said they were just watching fireworks outside their home, when she suddenly collapsed. They later learned Myrna was hit by a bullet in her left chest when she was rushed to the hospital. ~

“The Philippine National Police had earlier warned it would punish officers found to have fired their guns to greet the New Year. However, official government estimates show there are over 1.1 million unlicensed firearms in the hands of civilians, making it difficult to pinpoint those behind stray bullet injuries. Meanwhile, health and police officials noted there were successes in their various campaigns. "I don't want to play with firecrackers anymore," cried a young boy as he was treated for burns to the eyes at the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Centre in downtown Manila, according to an Agence France-Presse photographer. Many other victims, mostly children, were awaiting their turn at the emergency and trauma ward, which was on heightened alert in anticipation of New Year-related injuries. There were also several patients with stab wounds sustained at brawls in New Year's Eve parties, the hospital said. ~

“The Manila fire department also reported fires at various sites including a university, an apartment building and an abandoned residential area. There were no reports of casualties from the fires, most of which were caused by fireworks. "We have not slept since last night. There were 8 fires last night alone, and it has now risen to 11 incidents," Manila fire marshal Senior Superintendent Pablito Cordeta said on local radio. He appealed to the public to report anyone still playing with firecrackers. In last year's celebrations, over 900 people were injured by firecrackers and gunfire, the health department said. ~

Eighteen Killed in New Year’s Celebrations in 2004

In 2004, Reuters reported: “As Filipinos slept off the revelry of New Year's Eve, police and hospitals reported 18 deaths and hundreds of injuries from firecracker mishaps and stray bullets. A barrage of noise and light began across the nation at dusk, exploding into the early hours of 2004 from backyards, street parties and organised displays. Despite what police called a peaceful party, fireworks were again the culprit in most of the accidents. At least 18 people were killed at a market in Lucena City, about 100 kilometres southeast of Manila, when a firecracker vendor set off a massive blaze by testing his wares too close to his storeroom, police said. The death toll may rise as 22 people were missing, they said. Eleven fires in Manila raced through a home for the disabled, a plastics factory, another market and dozens of houses but caused no serious injuries.[Source: Reuters, January 1, 2004 ||||]

“At least 500 people were hurt by exploding firecrackers and 11 wounded by celebratory gunfire, including a 13-year-old girl hit in the arm by a bullet as she watched a fireworks show. "We're still getting reports from the field but I think the celebration was generally peaceful," Joel Goltiao, a national police senior superintendent, said. "Although the mood was very festive, there were less casualties than we expected." ||||

“In the run-up to New Year's Eve, officials urged the public to leave guns at home and take care with fireworks, as newspapers ran photos of hands missing fingers and other grisly injuries. Even police officers faced scrutiny after eight were arrested last year for firing weapons in the air. This time, tape was put over gun muzzles so commanders could tell who broke the rules. ||||

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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