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Simbang Gabi




Parol and

How to Make
A Simple Parol

Noche Buena

Tagalog Christmas

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Filipino Christmas

Simbang Gabi

Christmas is the longest and most celebrated holiday in the Philippines.  On December 16, the festivities start with a daily pre-dawn Mass, called Simbang Gabi or Misas de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses), and culminate in the Misa de Gallo on Christmas eve.   The Misas de Aguinaldo originated in Mexico and were held at four in the morning to accommodate the farmers who had to be in the fields by dawn during harvest season. 

This tradition continues to the present day.  At 3 o' clock in the morning, the church bells ring to summon the people to the service.  In some rural areas a band might play a medley of Christmas tunes to awaken the town.  After the lively service, churchgoers will filter out into the churchyard.  In the early morning light they will stop by food stalls made of nipa that line the perimeter of the church.

Like homes all over the Philippines at Christmastime, these tiny huts are decorated with some parol fashioned from bamboo sticks and cellophane.  These lanterns represent the star of Bethlehem, the guiding light that led the three wise men to the infant Child.  This emblem of Philippine Christmas embodies the spirit of hospitality that prevails during the season.

The early risers will have warm bibingka (rice cakes made from rice flour topped with carabao cheese and grated coconut) for breakfast.  Puto bumbong (purple glutinous rice cakes steamed in bamboo cylinders and sprinkled with grated coconut and brown sugar) will be offered along with invigorating cups of salabat (ginger tea).  The festive air will continue until Christmas eve.

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Simbang Gabi, Parol,
Bibingka, Salabat at Puto Bumbong

Text and image from
Lily G. O'Boyle and Reynaldo G.Alejandro,
Philippine Hospitality: A Gracious
Tradition of the East, 1995.
















In the provinces, the Mexican posada (inn) has survived but is known as the panuluyan (looking for lodgings).  This Christmas tradition dates back to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who suggested a Christmas novena to commemorate the Holy Family's journey to Bethlehem; in 1580, St. John of the Cross prepared a more elaborate version of the travel; seven years later, Spanish missionaries introduced it in Mexico.

The panuluyan is held on Christmas Eve.  To the tune of Paul Lincke's "Glowworm", the images of St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary are wheeled out of from the churh courtyard in the company of two singers who will vocalize their parts.  They stop at three or four homes that represent the inns and in each sing their plight and request for lodgings.  The innkeepers represented by a choir inform them that the inns are already filled to capacity.  In the end, the Holy Couple are wheeled into the church for Nativity. 

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Text and image from
Alejandro R. Roces's
Fiesta, 1980.










Aguinaldo (Gift Giving)

Christmas in the Philippines is the day for presents, for obeisances to godparents, and for visits to friends and relatives.  In general, members of the family exchange gifts following a traditional Christmas eve dinner (called noche buena). Godchildren visit their godparents on Christmas day to ask for their blessings and, in turn,  godparents traditionally hand over gifts to their godchildren.  It is also during Christmas day that big family reunions are held with a feast of good food, singing, and dancing.  

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Mano Po
Greeting grandma with a kiss
on the hand on Christmas.





Philippine Christmas is not complete without music, and the season is celebrated by Filipinos through caroling.  In most urban centers and rural areas in the Philippines, a group of carolers visit houses to sing Christmas songs. Some of these carolers raise funds for less fortunate families through caroling, while others are simply doing it for the joy of singing.  Some carolers may be a group of friends, or belong to the same community or civic organization.  Others may be family relatives who have made it a tradition to sing together as a family.

In the neighborhood, a group of kids may form together as amateur carolers and visit houses every night.  They will be more than happy to receive coins or candies as reward for singing Christmas songs.  They sing even out of tune, and are creative in using tin cans, plastic containers, and bamboos as their musical instruments.  It is the fun of doing it that mattters, out of tune or not! 

Click here for Tagalog Christmas songs.


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A group of kids form amateur
Christmas carolers

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Parol and Decorations

Filipinos adorn their houses with parol (Christmas lantern influenced by the Mexican piņata) during Christmas.  Most of these lanterns are made of bamboo sticks and thin sheets of paper (called Japanese paper in the Philippines).  They are lighted up at night.   More recent innovations of the parol are those made of capiz (seashells) that have dancing lights, which originated in Pampangga. 

Click here to learn how to make a simple Filipino parol.

Inside Filipino homes, there are Christmas trees and a nativity scene either cut out from cardboards or made of ceramics.  Christmas trees are decorated with colorful lights.   The usual colors are red, green, and yellow.


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Parol (Christmas lanterns)
adorn most Filipino houses




Noche Buena

On Christmas eve, family members partake of a sumptuous Filipino meal by twelve midnight, called noche buena.   This usually comes after the entire family has attended a late evening mass or church service about an hour or so before midnight.  The typical noche buena foods prepared on the table are: lechon, pancit, fried chicken, lumpia, rice, adobo, among others for the main course;  desserts include halo-halo, rice cakes, ice cream, patries and cakes; drinks include soda, wine, beer, juice. 

Noche buena is also an opportunity for family get together, opening of Christmas gifts, singing and story-telling.  It is also a chance for kids to earn some money aside from toy gifts.   In some homes, it is also one way to welcome the less-fortunate by inviting orphans or poor people to join in the Christmas celebration.  Some carolers who raise funds for civic organizations are also welcomed and given donations (in cash or kind) into the home.

The noche buena could last until about four o'clock in the morning on Christmas day.  The whole family will again attend mass or church service during the morning.  When they go back home, the salu-salo (partaking of the meal) will continue.  It is during Christmas day that some inaanak (godchildren) visit their ninong (godfather) and ninang (godmother).  It is also the day for some families to hold grand reunions of extended family clan members (grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, uncles and aunts).

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Adobong manok
(chicken marinated and stewed
in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and corn peppers)




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Lechon (roasted pig) and
fresh tropical fruits

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Puto (rice cake)   and lugaw (congee)


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Tropical fruit salad


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(Iced tropical fruits
topped with ice cream)