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Source: Pasko! : The Philippine Christmas

Filipino Decorations

Simbang Gabi

Puto Bumbong

Filipino Traditions

Holiday Food

Making A
Star Lantern

Tagalog Christmas Songs


Philippine Festivals

Tagalog Home Page


Christmas: A National Fiesta

The Philippines is known as the "Land of Fiestas," and at Christmas time,  this is especially true.  Filipinos are proud to proclaim their Christmas celebration to be the longest and merriest in the world.  It begins formally on December 16 with attendance at the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses and continues on nonstop until the first Sunday of January, Feast of the Three Kings, the official end of the season.

The Philippines is the only Asian country where Christians predominate. Majority of its people are Roman Catholic.  Christmas, therefore, is an extremely important and revered holiday for most Filipinos.  It is a time for family, for sharing, for giving, and a time for food, fun, and friendship.

To most Filipinos, Christmas is the most anticipated fiesta of the year and is celebrated accordingly.  The splendid climate of this tropical island nation, the abundance and beauty of its flowers, and lovely landscape, its multitude of culinary delights, and above all its warm-hearted people with their true devotion to family and faith all contribute to a holiday celebrated in the true Philippines fiesta tradition.

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Filipino Christmas Decors

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A collection
of Filipino parol,
or star lanterns, 
is an essential
Christmas decoration
in the Philippines. 
These lanterns
dazzling colorful lights
especially at night.

There is no winter or snow in the Philippines at Christmas time.  There are very few pine trees.  There is no traditional Yule log or fetching of the pine sprigs from the woods.  And Santa Claus, though visible in displays and believed by most Filipino children  to exist, seldom comes bearing gifts. 

Even without snow or pine trees, there's no doubt it's Christmasin the Philippines.  Filipino Christmas decorations are abundant and beautiful.

The bamboo parol (pah-role), or star lantern, is the symbol of Christmas in the Philippines, representing the guiding light, the star of Bethlehem.   It emits a warmth unparalleled among holiday adornments and is unique to the Philippines. 

Filipinos enjoy decorating their homes not only with star lanterns but also with all sorts of Christmas decors.  Brightly colored buntings or streamers are hung inside and out.  Often, Christmas cards that illustrate  scenes in the Philippines are pinned on  red and green ribbons.  The cards are then hung in the sala, or living room, for all to enjoy. Candles and wreaths are also common adornments.  Recently, Filipinos have begun choosing wreaths and other decorations made with local native materials rather than those patterned after western designs.  And many houses, particularly those in the urban areas are strung with tiny multi-colored lights both inside and out. Most Filipinos think that decorating their homes for the Christmas holidays is a must.

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Filipino Christmas Traditions

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It is a Filipino tradition
for children to visit their
godparents and elderly relatives
on Christmas day. 
This child is showing respect
for his godmother by taking
her hand to his forehead. 
In return, he receives a blessing or a gift.

Christmas in the Philippines is a mixture of Western and native Filipino traditions.  Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, sending Christmas cards, and singing carols have all been inherited from the cultures of the West.   However, these have all been  adapted to fit the nature and personality of the Filipino people.

Christmas Eve in the Philippines is one of the traditions most families celebrate.  It is a night without sleep and a continuous celebration moving right into Christmas Day.  As December 24th dawns, the last Mass of Simbang Gabi is attended; then preparation begins for Noche Buena, which is a family feast that takes place after midnight.

The Noche Buena is very much like an open house celebration.   Family, friends, relatives, and neighbors drop by to wish every family member "Maligayang Pasko" (Merry Christmas).  Food is  in abundance, often served in buffet style.   Guests or visitors partake of the food prepared by the host family (even though they are already full or bloated!).   Among the typical foods prepared in the Philippines during Christmas are: lechon (roasted pig), pancit, barbecue, rice, adobo, cakes (Western and native rice cakes), lumpia, etc.  There is also an abundance of San Miguel beer, wine, and liquor, which makes the celebration of Christmas indeed intoxicating! 

The streets are well lit and are full of activities.  The children run in and out of the house  to play, to eat, and to play again. The Christmas Eve gathering provides an opportunity for a reunion of immediate and distant family members.  Some families may choose to exchange gifts at this time; others wait until Christmas day. 

In general, the center of a family's Christmas gathering is always the lola, the endearing term used for a family matriarch or grandmother, who is deeply respected, highly revered, and always present.   Filipinos remember how their lola had their children form a line and step up to receive a small gift of some coins.  The older the child, the more coins he or she receives.

Some families have a talent show during Christmas Eve celebration.   Children are asked to perform.  One might sing a Christmas song, others might play a musical instrument,  or others may recite a poem or do a dance. The celebration continues until about  6 o'clock in the morning.  Those who cannot attend Mass the night before will go to the morning Mass on Christmas day.

Christmas day is a popular day for children to visit their uncles, aunts, godmothers, and godfathers.  At each home they are presented with a gift, usually candy, money,  or a small toy.  Food and drinks are also offered at each stop.  It is a day of family closeness, and everyone wishes good cheer and glad tidings.

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Holiday Food

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As everyone begins arriving home after midnight Mass,
the little ones are awakened from their naps. 
The food is brought out and the festivities begin.

The table is set buffet style with as many 15-20 food items.   The following food recipes are prepared for this festivity:


Puto Bungbong

(Pan-Fried Roast Pork)

(Oxtail Stew in Peanut Butter Sauce)

Meat Turnovers

Rellenong Manok
(Baked Stuffed  Chicken)

Banana Fritters

(Shrimp Snacks)

Arroz Caldo
(Chicken Rice Soup)


(Ginger Tea)

(Hot  Chocolate)

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Simbang Gabi

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"midnight mass" or "mass of the rooster"
comes from the Catholic custom
of gathering for celebration of the
Eucharist in the pre-dawn hours of each of the nine days before

STARTING after midnight tonight (15 December), church bells will be
ringing very early in the morning until
Christmas Day. Today marks the
beginning of the
Christmas novena, or Simbang Gabi, in Tagalog.
For Filipino Catholics the nine-day celebration before
is a tradition with deep roots in the country's religious culture.
Literally, simbang gabi means ``night worship.'' The name
comes from the Catholic custom of gathering for the celebration
of the Eucharist in the pre-dawn hours on each of the nine days
Christmas. Hence, this celebration is also known by its
popular Spanish name as the misa de gallo, or ``mass of the
rooster.'' Catholic churches throughout the country will be
ringing their bells around 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning long before
the roosters crow.

The origins of this Filipino custom are obscure. Perhaps the
tradition came from Mexico, like many Catholic practices and
devotions found in the Philippines. One old Spanish name for this
Christmas series of daily masses is Misa de Aguinaldo. The
phrase offers some insight into the meaning of simbang gabi. In
Spanish aguinaldo means a gift. So Misa de Aguinaldo suggests a
gift for the Child Jesus. Whatever its title, this pre-
observance is surely a sacrifice of love for it requires dedication
and discipline to get out of bed so early while yet fulfilling all
one's daily duties.

Over the generations, local Filipino faith communities have
creatively adapted simbang gabi. While only candles and lanterns
are used in rural areas, as in centuries past, most churches today
have electric lights, lanterns, and sound systems in keeping with
the economic means of the congregation. So amplifiers now blare
Christmas music and the readings from the World of God and
the Eucharistic prayers. Over adaptations are deeper. For example,
many urban parishes now celebrate simbang gabi around 8 or 9 in
the evening, not just in the morning, in order to accommodate the
needs of people on a great variety of work schedules. The custom
is also kept among Filipinos living elsewhere in the world. No
matter how or when this celebration takes place, the annual
simbang gabi provides a strong indication of the depth of
Catholicism in the hearts of Filipinos.

For those not taking in this celebration, simbang gabi may appear
to be too much noise too early in the morning. But a modicum of
reflection easily allows everyone to gain insight into the deeper
meaning of this celebration. Simbang gabi expresses the faith of
Filipinos who hold the same core belief as all Christians, namely,
that God is present in human history, even in the simple joys and
anxieties of life's humblest activities. Filipino Catholics who
sincerely live their belief in the incarnation merit the respect and
admiration of the whole nation.

So, let the bells of the Misa de Gallo break the pre-dawn silence of
the whole land. The bells offer a message of hope in God and of
hope for peace on earth.

15 December 1999

from the Editorial of Manila Bulletin,  Online Edition

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That unmistakable flavor of Christmas, Pinoy-style

PUTO bumbong and bibingka
are two native holiday treats
that are bound to the
pre-drawn Misa de
Aguinaldo, which starts December
16 and is held everyday for
nine days until

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In the city, even well-dressed matrons buy them dripping with
melted butter and sprinkled with niyog to get them going for the
nine dawn Masses.

The number of street stalls serving these delicacies has
dwindled through the years, as has the number of
church-goers during the Simbang Gabi. But there are still a
few restaurants in town that serve the faithful who attend
the dawn Mass.

Where to go if you'd rather have a sit-down breakfast of
puto bumbong and bibingka?

KSP Grill on Meralco Avenue, Ortigas Center has gone as
far as setting up a bibingka and puto bumbong station out

Chateau 1771 in El Pueblo Pasig and Portico in Malate
serve the native cakes all day every day during the holiday
season. One can order puto bumbong and bibingka as early
as 7 a.m. or any time until midnight.

Not to be outdone, Dusit Hotel Nikko has come up with a
Christmas offering that includes bibingka or puto bumbong,
served with coffee, tea or salabat (ginger tea), at P180 and
P145, respectively, available daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. at
The Cafe Restaurant.

At EDSA Shangri-La, the Garden Café includes B & B
(bibingka and bumbong, not bed and breakfast) in its
breakfast buffet.

For its holiday fare, Hotel Inter-Continental Manila's Café
Jeepney offers them with salabat from Dec. 16 to 31, 6-10
a.m., and until Jan. 7, 3-7 p.m.

December 15, 1999

from Philippine Daily Inquirer Online Edition

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Making a Parol or Star Lantern

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The star lantern is an essential Christmas decoration in the Philippines. 
Many Filipinos make their own lanterns.   Follow the direction below and
you too can make your own lantern.

Giant Lantern Festival


10 strips of wood, 1/4 inch wide 10 inches long (or strip made from matte board, 1/4 inch wide and 10 inches long)
5 trips of wood, 1/4 inch wide, 3/4 inches long
2  12 inch squares of tissue paper, white and colored
2  8 inch by 16 inch pieces of tissue paper, white and colored
5  10-inch by 3-inch pieces of colored and white tissue paper
2 pieces of thin, flexible wire cut into 6 inch lengths
1 piece of thin, flexible wire cut into a 10-inch length
construction paper
non-toxic glue

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1.  Make a star pattern, and glue five of the 10 inch strips of wood or matte board to make a star.  Allow the glue to dry completely.  Repeat with the other five strips.  The two stars should be identical.

2.  At the five points of one of the stars, glue the five 3/4 inch strips of wood so they are in an upright position.   Allow glue to dry.

3.  Place a dab of glue on the top of each of the shorter strips.  Position the second star directly over the first one.  Apply a bit of pressure at the joints to be sure they affix to the shorter strips.

4.  To finish joining the stars, place a dab of glue at the five points of the star.  Press together the points of the two stars.  Use tape to secure the points until the glue dries.  Remove the tape.  Be careful not to pull the points apart.

5.  To cover the star, place the glue on the surface of the outside strips (those that make up the points) on one side of the star.  Position one of the 12 inch by 12 inch pieces of tissue paper on the side with the glue, so the star is centered on the paper.  Keep the tissue as smooth and as tight as possible.  Once the glue has dried, turn the star over, and repeat this step with the other 12 inch by 12 inch piece of tissue paper.  Again, allow the glue to dry.

6.  Trim some of the excess tissue paper, leaving enough to cover the sides of the star.  Cut 7/8 inch slits in the joints.

7.  Fold each flap over, and glue it to its corresponding wooden strip of the star.  Once the flue dries, trim any excess paper.

8.  While the star is drying, make the paper tassels.  These look best if a different color tissue paper from that which covers the star is used.  Fold each of the two 8 inch by 16 inch pieces of tissue paper so that the 16 inch length is in half.  With the scissors, make cuts 3/8 inch wide and 6 inches long, leaving 2 inches at the folded side.

9.  Open one of the tassels so that there is fringe at both ends.  Fold the tassel in half length-wise, and squeeze both sides of the center.  Poke one half of a 6 inch wire through the center of the tassel.  Repeat these steps with the other tassel.

10.  Fold the tassel in half so that all the fringe is together.  Wrap the bottom half of the wire (that which is now covered with the fringe) around the area just at the top of the fringe.  Repeat with the other tassel, using the second 6 inch wire.

11.  Attach the tassels to the lower points of the star by poking the 3 inches of exposed wire through the tissue paper on the star.

12.  Poke 2 inches of the 10 inch wire through the tissue paper at the top point of the star.  Wrap the 2 inches of wire around the point, and wrap the end around the remaining wire.  Use the 8 inches of wire left over to form a hanger.

13.  To cover the wires of tassels at the bottom points and to put tassels on the other three points, fold in half each of the five 10 inch pieces of tissue paper.  With scissors, make cuts 1/8 inch wide and 2 1/2 inches long, leaving 1/2 inch at the top.

14.  To attach the tassels, spread glue on the uncut 1/2 inch area.   Carefully, wind the glued end around each of the five points of the star.

15.  Decorate the star using markers, glitters, etc.

16.  Cut patterns out of construction paper, and glued them on the star.  Make up a pattern.  To do so, fold a sheet of construction paper in half.  Copy the pattern onto the paper, making sure the fold on the paper corresponds with the fold on the pattern, and then cut the pattern out.  Use a zigzag motion with the scissors to create a unique edge.   Unfold the paper, and place glue only on the longer edges.  Position the pattern on the star with the glued end toward the tassel.  Repeat this step with the other four points of the star.

17.  Paper scallop can be glued to the sides of the star.  With a compass, draw a 4 1/2 inch circle on the construction paper.  Cut the circle out, fold in half, and cut along the fold line.   Fold the half circle in half four more times  until you get a very small wedge.

18.  Open the paper up, and refold using the fold lines to get accordion pleats.  repeat these steps with nine more half circles of the same size.  Glue one paper scallop to each wood support on all sides of the star.  You may also make scallops using 6 1/2 inch circles.  These can be glued between the smaller scallops.

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Tagalog Christmas Songs

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Tagalog Christmas songs
basically reflect the joyful spirit
of Christmas in the Philippines.
There are, however, some
songs that reflect the loneliness
of the season especially for
those whose love ones are
far away or who have been

1. Pasko Na Naman
2. Pasko Na Sinta Ko
3. Kay Sigla ng Gabi
4. Sino si Santa Klaus?

Pasko Na Naman

Pasko na naman, o kay tulin ng araw.
Paskong nagdaan, tila ba kung kelan lang.
Ngayon ay Pasko, dapat pasalamatan.
Ngayon ay Pasko, tayo ay mag-awitan.
Pasko, Pasko, Pasko na namang muli,
Pasko, Pasko, Pasko na namang muli!
Ang pag-ibig naghahari!

Pasko na Sinta Ko

Pasko na sinta ko
Hanap-hanap kita
Bakit nagtatampo't
Nilisan ako

Kung mawawala ka,
Sa piling ko sinta,
Paano ang Pasko
Inulila mo?

Sayang sinta,
Ang sinumpaan
At pagtitinginan tunay.
Nais mo bang kalimutang ganap
Ang ating suyuan at galak?

Kung mawawala ka,
Sa piling ko sinta,

Paano ang Paskong
Alay ko sa iyo?

Kay Sigla ng Gabi

Kay sigla ng gabi, ang lahat ay kay saya!
Nagluto ang Ate ng manok na tinola,
Sa bahay ng Kuya ay mayroong litsonan pa!
Ang lahat ay may handang iba't-iba.

Tayo na giliw, magsalo na tayo!
Meron na tayong tinapay at keso.
Di ba Noche Buena sa gabing ito,
At bukas ay araw ng Pasko!

Sino si Santa Klaus?

Sino si Santa Klaus?
Ang tanong sa 'kin,
Ng anak kong bunso
Na naglalambing.

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