What makes a Filipino Christmas? Is it the local holiday décor, or the lechon on the Noche Buena table? It is said that Christmas in the Philippines, which extends from September to January, is the longest and the most festive in the world. This is partly attributed to the country’s predominant Christian population and the Filipinos’ fondness for festivities.
Here’s a list of 10 distinctly Filipino Christmas things you couldn’t miss.
The outlandish Christmas décor
The yuletide season is a chance for families to show off their decorating skills (or the lack thereof) by decorating their homes in light of the festivities. Filipino households typically mount Christmas ornaments as early as October and only take them down on the last week of January. Décors range from the simple parol to the detailed belen (Christmas manger). The more colourful, the better. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t snow in the Philippines, the house shall have a miniature snowman.
The family reunion
Pinoy Christmas is all about family. Spending Noche Buena alone is almost unheard of. The yuletide season is when you reunite with relatives, some you’ve never met in your life. Bring your girlfriend/boyfriend to your family reunion is a double-edged sword: you get to introduce your partner (hopefully, future spouse) to everyone, but you run the risk of exposing him/her to embarrassing childhood stories your family would definitely love to share. These events are golden opportunities for the elders to humiliate you and your cousins.
Every Pinoy get-together needs a karaoke to be legit. Whether it’s a birthday party or a Christmas celebration, the star of the event is always the karaoke. Tagalog Christmas songs are not the only tunes in the playlist. You’d still hear hits by Air Supply, Kenny Rogers and Frank Sinatra in a cool December evening.
The most awaited ang pao
During Christmas in the Philippines, red envelopes are distributed by cash-rich relatives and godparents. The giving of ang pao, which contain crisp money bills, is a custom during Chinese New Year, but Pinoys adopted it nonetheless. The “solicitation” of Christmas aguinaldo tucked in little ang pao typically starts right after school break when kids are free to visit their ninongs (godfathers) and ninangs (godmothers). By the time the kid gets old and secures a job, it’s the godparents’ turn to ask for gifts.
Gift giving with a twist
Gift giving is a Christmas tradition practiced in the entire Christian world. Filipinos give it a twist by adding jest. The Monito/Monita Christmas gift-giving is like Secret Santa, where people gives gifts based on a theme. For “something white and edible,” people may receive a piece of radish or white chocolates. Others may get a pack of cotton balls or a roll of tissue paper for “something soft and useful.” This is the kind of gift giving where Pinoys display their creativity and humor.
The mystery of the fruit salad
The Christmas season is the time for lavish buffets. There’s the lechon, pancit, and lumpiang shanghai. The desserts are staples. There are local delicacies such as biko, kakanin, and bibingka. The Noche Buena is like a parade of specialties. Family members showcase their culinary talents by serving their own Christmas recipes. It’s quite normal to see various versions of the favorite fruit salad on the dinner table. Some include shredded buko, others have grated cheese. No version shall have the same proportion of milk. To each his own, as the saying goes.
The awkward “open forum”
Christmas reunions are fun. Cringe-worthy at times, but still fun. The event usually starts in the late afternoon with men grilling barbeque on the porch with beer on hand and the women busy cooking and chatting in the kitchen. The conversations continue until dinner and extends to karaoke time. As the night deepens and the music softens, someone (usually the most opinionated aunt) will start the open forum. This is when family members express their appreciation for each other and vent out their frustrations or hidden ill feelings they’ve kept for the past 12 months. Laughter, tears, and lots of group hugs occur.
The talent portion you’ve always dreaded
There’s a long list of funny Pinoy Christmas traditions, from the Secret Santa to the “karoling” or the house-to-house singing of Christmas songs in exchange for loose change. Another uniquely Filipino tradition during family reunions is the talent portion. Parents coerce their kids, regardless of age, to show off their singing, dancing or declamation skills. “C’mon, show your Lola your new dance moves,” moms would say. The older generation was spared from the risk of getting their humiliation recorded and posted on social media.
Attending family events can be a pain in the neck, especially if you’re still single in your thirties. Relatives are known for their inability to mince words. They’d call your attention if you seem to have added extra weight or lost too much pounds. They’d blatantly ask about your performance in school and give a little scolding for “not making the family proud.” If you’ve crossed the 30s threshold and remains unmarried, expect an avalanche of questions about your plans for the future. Some would even suggest potential mates and try to set up in a date.
Jump high, make noise
The New Year’s Eve is an important Filipino celebration. Families gather for Media Noche, or the midnight feast, to welcome the new year together. It is believed that jumping as high as you can would make you taller, and making noise would drive away evil spirits. The dining table is filled with round fruits that symbolize money. Wearing polka dotted clothes and jingling coins in your pocket would bring blessings in the months ahead.
There’s nothing like Filipino festivities. Even the most introvert family member would be forced out of his shell to join the karaoke competition and crazy gift-giving. Condo living makes these celebrations extra special because of the tenants’ access to function halls and other indoor amenities perfect for social gatherings.