Filipino Christmas Traditions


PASKO: Christmas in the Philippines


The Tagalog word Pasko derives from the Spanish word Pascua. Although the word Pascua means Easter, Pascua de Navidad refers to Christmas.

The Philippines is known for having the world’s longest Christmas season. 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! And the holiday season extends beyond December 31st. It doesn’t end until the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings (Tatlong Hari) which falls around January 6.

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.

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.

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.

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.

What every Filipino looks forward to is Noche Buena, the grand family dinner after the midnight mass. 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.


Maligayang Pasko!

Merry Christmas!