A Guide to Christmas in the Philippines

With the holidays approaching, travelling can get lonely. Whether you are travelling solo or with friends, it can never be the same as sitting at home with your family. This is particularly true when in Asia – a continent where Christmas just isn’t as popular. However, there are some countries where Christmas is celebrated with the same excitement and anticipation as in the West – or possibly more. That country is the Philippines.

Of course, many countries will have dedicated parties and celebrations, but none are as ingrained in the culture as in the Philippines. In fact, the Philippines is said to celebrate Christmas for the longest, starting as early as September. As it is one of the biggest holidays of the year in the country, here is a quick look at what you can expect.

They Celebrate Christmas in the Philippines?

In a region that consists of mainly Buddhist and Muslim nations, it is easy to forget that the Philippines is a predominately Christian country, with around 80% of the population claiming to be Catholic. Therefore, as a major holiday on the Christian calendar, Christmas plays an important role in the culture of the Philippines. The Filipino Christmas spirit is very infectious, so be prepared to take part in the festivities and excitement surrounding the holidays.

What to Expect

So what can you expect during the Christmas holidays? 

Being in the Southeast Asia region and relatively close to the equator, don’t expect any snow over the holidays. While temperatures do cool down around December/January time, you won’t be needing anything more than a light jacket. In fact, you could enjoy the occasion while sunbathing on the beach.

Decorations are as popular here during Christmas as everywhere else. Along with Christmas trees and lights, Filipinos also hang up Christmas lanterns, which they call a Paról. Anyone visiting will have seen these hanging inside buildings or on street lights. They are an important symbol for the holidays in the Philippines and come in many interesting designs. They generally come in the shape of a star and are made of paper and bamboo. For many in the country, these represent Christmas as much as a Christmas tree does.

It is impossible to celebrate Christmas without Christmas music. The Philippines has a whole catalogue of songs in their native Tagalog. Both songs and carols will be common place as you walk the streets. It can be interesting to hear what sort of music is popular in different countries and hear how the language sounds when sung. It can be a great learning experience for when you want to learn Tagalog.

Let’s not forget the religious aspect of the holiday. Due to the large Catholic population, many people will go to the churches for mass. In what is named the Simbang Gabi, Filipinos will wake up at dawn to attend 9 masses between December 16th and December 24th, where the mass takes place at midnight. Expect church bells to ring as early as 3am during this period.

Otherwise, as with any major holiday, travel with mostly shut down. In the build-up to the Christmas period, roads and transport will be incredibly busy with people trying to get home to their families. It will be quite difficult and likely expensive to get around during these times so planning ahead would be wise.

What to do

With all this going on, there is expectedly a lot to do. While Christmas is mostly a family affair, there are still many parties to enjoy. Filipinos are very welcoming, especially during this time of year, so it can be possible to find friends that will invite you to join their families too. Homestays may also be available, and offer a unique experience.

Make sure you greet everyone with festive cheer. In Tagalog, people wish each other ‘Maligayang Pasko’ which, of course, means ‘Merry Christmas’. You are sure to make someones day if you can say that in their language so please do try it out.

Christmas is very much an eating (and drinking) holiday. It is no time for a diet as there will be plenty of banquets on offer for you to try the local Christmas cuisine. Following the midnight mass on December 24th/25th, families and friends will return home to feast on dishes such as lechón (roasted pig), ham, rice cakes like Bibingka or Puto bumbong, and fruits. There will also be a number of drinks on offer, both alcoholic and not. You can learn how to say Cheers in Tagalog to enjoy the drinks with your Filipino friends and their family. 

Finally, a simple walk around the city can reveal some beautiful sights, decorations, and crowds of happy people looking forward to the holidays. Make sure you check out some churches which should also be decorated for the occasion.

The Joy of the Holidays

Nothing could be more exciting than experiencing a holiday while abroad. While it can be sad, keeping yourself busy and taking part in the festivities can improve your mood. There is no better place to be over Christmas than the Philippines. With all the excitement, food, and customs taking place, there is always something to be doing. Whether you are in the city or the countryside you are sure to find the joys of the Christmas. If you are in the region during the holiday period, a stop in the Philippines should definitely be on your list.

Want to brush up on your Tagalog ready for the holidays? Try out the Ling app now.

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