Cultural Holiday Traditions: Four Months Of Christmas
There is one country which celebrates Christmas from the first of September to January 6th, the day of the Epiphany (or the Three Kings). The Filipinos hold this record breaking status. There, instead of saying Merry Christmas, they say, “Maligayang Pasko.” And with door-to-door candy collecting, firecrackers and holiday lights, this holiday feels like the American equivalent of Halloween, Independence Day, and Christmas all rolled into one.
The Christmas celebration begins with revelers stringing lights everywhere. Parol, a five pointed star shaped lantern made from glass (or sometimes a bamboo frame covered in rice paper) with a bulb or flashlight for an inner light source, are hung in stores everywhere and homes everywhere.
If you can’t wait until after Thanksgiving to break out the Christmas music, you’d love the Filipino Christmas, which cultural accepts carols and holiday music for the last four months of the year. Children go caroling at their neighbors’ houses and are rewarded with gifts or food. The Filipinos sing many of the same carols that we do; however they have their own songs as well, written in their own language.
Businesses, schools and groups hold parties and exchange gifts around the second week of December. Parlor games and potlucks are a common part of the celebration.
Since the country is predominantly Catholic, nine special night masses, the Novenas, start December 16th. Simbang Gabi, meaning “night worship,” is an important and beloved custom. The mass begins anywhere from 8PM to 4 AM, depending on the part of the country. If one has a special wish they want granted, they attend all nine of the masses and await fulfillment of their prayers. The service lasts about an hour. Breakfast is shared by mass attendees in the morning.
Food is a big part of the Christmas celebration. Families will get together to clean, chop, slice and prepare meat and vegetables in large quantities for the big family meals. But the work is made light with the festive atmosphere and lots of family members in the kitchen helping and sharing family time together.
In many areas, participants on Christmas Eve reenact the efforts of Joseph and Mary to find a resting place for the night after their tiring journey.
As the actors travel along asking for shelter, they are rudely turned away by other actors, just as the inn keepers did. Their requests and refusals are often sung. Finally the couple come to the church where a manger has been set up and the midnight mass begins.
The Christmas mass, Noche Buena, can last all night, and includes the midnight family dinner. Firecrackers can be heard on the morning of Christmas to celebrate the birth of the Christ child.
My American Filipino friend, Gracia Nelson said, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without the firecrackers.”
The adults place their hands on the children’s heads and bless them. After the blessing a gift of a crisp bill is given to each child.
Friends and family are greeted with “Maligayang Pasko.” Gifts may be exchanged on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The celebrating continues with families visiting with each other and enjoying family time and meals.
Holy Innocents Day
Holy Innocents Day, December 28 is a day of practical jokes, similar to our April Fool’s Day. One does not loan money on that day because it is understood they will not be paid back. Those who loan money on this day are called Na-Niños Inocentes ka!
Media Noche is the midnight feast to celebrate the new year. Loud noises made with firecrackers, pots, pans, or even car horns announce the New Year. While in America, and particularly the South, we eat black-eyed peas for a prosperous new year, the Filipino culture eats round fruits and wears clothes with dots or circles. Eating twelve grapes, one for each month, are also said to be especially helpful for those hoping for money in the next year. Children are told to jump at midnight to ensure they will grow taller.
With all the joyous activities, the preparations, the sharing among families and friends of the church services and the meals, it is probably a good thing this holiday lasts as long as it does. What a great way to end one year and start another.