The Philippines boasts the longest Christmas season in the world. As the calendar of the long-held, visually sparkling season is packed with parades, festivals, concerts, and other events, September opens up the so-called “Ber” (September, October, November, and December) months. While this tropical archipelago nation has no white Christmas, no one has the same holidays as the Philippines. Since Filipinos have one, if not the longest Christmas celebration ever, as soon as the “Ber” months begin to arrive, the entire nation is filled with bright lights, giant parols, and Christmas trees.
How is it possible for Filipinos to celebrate the longest Christmas season in the world?
Filipinos grew up in this culture, but where did it begin? Experts were evaluating why it is celebrated for the longest of all other countries. You may think that Filipinos are only Catholics. This may be one reason, but the Advent season or the preparation for the Nativity of Jesus Christ starts four Sundays before Christmas Day, which is about the last week of November or the beginning of December, according to sociologists.
Other holidays, including Thanksgiving and Halloween, are expected in the rest of the world, while Christmas tracks are already being played in malls and radio stations in the Philippines in September. As the first Christian country, and the largest Catholic population in Asia, the Philippines is not afraid to go overboard when it comes to Christmas celebrations. In the Philippines, it’s not just Christmas Day, it’s the “Christmas Season” that lasts more than three months.
Christmas is revered in the Philippines because it is largely considered a festival. This meant that the Christmas celebration’s cultural values were already in existence, which separates it from others in the year. The hopeful Christmas approach is partly inspired by how it is celebrated by the Church: the Advent season. It is an exceedingly positive readiness for the coming of Christ. In this context, the Philippines’ cheerful mentality is religious: think of Misa de Gallo, Christmas caroling, outreach projects, and more. Christmas is also celebrated by Filipinos as a largely religious holiday, with over 80% of the population considered Catholic as of 2010.
Philippine festivals are an act of appreciation, much like a Christmas celebration for Filipinos. However, the great difference of the Philippine festivals is the connection from a good harvest in honor of the patron saint of the region. Fiestas are significant for many Filipinos because of the saints’ miraculous presence. It is believed that for all the good fortune and favor that one gets, the saints are responsible. In Cebu province alone, from the Sinulog Festival in Cebu City to the Tag-Anito Festival in the municipality of Tudela in the province of Cebu, you will encounter a multitude of joyful and colorful Cebuano festivals. Let’s not forget the food and fruit festivals, such as the Guimaras Manggahan Festival, Camiguin Lanzones Festival, General Santos Tuna Festival, Laguna Kesong Puti Festival, and much more. Filipinos are fond of their festivals.
The season’s traditions and religious values also give the Philippines a sense of ownership of Christmas. Even before the modern era, many rituals were enveloped around Christmas: traditional re-enactments such as Simbang Gabi. It began in 1669, when, during the early days of Spanish rule, Simbang Gabi arrived in the Philippines as a practical solution for farmers who began to work before sunrise, to avoid the dawn on the fields. In the early mornings, priests started to say Mass instead of the evening novenas that were more usual in the rest of the Hispanic world. This popular custom of Christmas soon became a distinct feature of the culture of the Philippines and became one of the Christmas symbols.
Christmas is not a moment of faith alone. It is very cultural: OFWs should be at home, there should be a reunification of families. Christmas is not only about a child Jesus’ birth, but about the family itself as well. Many Filipino Overseas Workers (OFWs), who live and work abroad, typically return home for family vacations.
In the number of holidays, the Philippines is among the top in the world, but there is only one national holiday, Bonifacio Day (30 November), and two non-working holidays during the ‘Ber’ months: All Saints Day (1 November) and All Saints Day (2 November). On December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was then officially considered a holiday in 2018 in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 10966 into law. When you want to address Oktoberfest, an annual festival that began in 1810 in Munich, Germany, the beer-drinking festival is monopolized in the Philippines by only one beverage brand. In the country, beer drinking and booze parties are also supervised.
As in the United States, the Philippines does not have Thanksgiving, and Halloween is often a major festival in Hispanic and European countries, but not in the Philippines. Halloween (or Hallows ‘Eve) became popular with costume parties and children’s trick-or-treat activities when shopping malls and food establishments such as restaurants were promoted. For Filipinos, trick-or-treating is not even a thing. Christmas caroling is much more practiced, even in September. During the “Ber” months, giant Christmas trees and sparkling lights mask away those black plastic bats and fake vampire teeth when you visit shopping malls. The only celebration of Halloween for Filipinos consists mainly of horror movie marathons and TV specials. With that said, then, in September, Filipinos begin Christmas because, again, they love their festivals.
Mall entrance doors and lobbies adore shiny Christmas decors. Then there are the sales and activities before Christmas here and there. Holiday advertisements for airlines are starting to pop up. Friends and family invitations to meet and eat out are starting to arrive. Many people suggest mall owners and restaurants are misleading people into buying. Others will also conclude that as early as September, these firms “deceive” individuals to spend money for Christmas. In the Philippines, that is not the case. Festivals for Filipinos are supposed to be joyous occasions and it is not possible to disregard the monetary aspect of festivals: Filipinos are ready to spend. Well, no matter how many Filipinos think they have less in the financial factor, the buying power of Filipinos is still great because the season calls for sharing and spending on presents, dining out in groups, and indulging in food. Malls did not create this tradition. Malls and brands respond only to the actions of individuals, and they have found a great opportunity to meet the demand.
Currently, individuals are seeking to escape the so-called “Christmas rush,” which is why they prefer to drop a mall visit to eliminate heavy traffic and long lines at the counter. Gift-giving and family reunions also offered a path to an earlier mall sale and promotions.
Because of its wide commercialization and the tradition of gift-giving, Christmas is considered a happy time of the year. Christmas, as Filipino culture celebrates camaraderie and happiness, is in itself a fanfare of blessings. The family is related to the pleasures of travel, costly presents, lovely festivals, sales, and all that. Filipinos are very nostalgic about events that have occurred during the year, and they seem to feel obligated to send a gift to someone, whether big or small, to reaffirm that they are grateful and remember. They will renew the sense of responsibility they have for each other by gift-giving. Christmas season is a time when it is reaffirmed by Filipinos.
As Filipino families come together on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, both immediate and extended, this means that children receive presents from their various titos, titas, ninongs, and ninangs. The meeting begins with the traditional “mano,” or as a show of reverence for the elders, a traditional Filipino expression. Apart from children, some adults may ask their children to play with an instrument, a song, a dance, or poetry, and then they will be rewarded with gifts in the form of toys or cash in their Aguinaldo.
In most nations, Christmas morning is family and party time. The Philippines celebrates right after the Christmas Midnight Mass with immediate and extended families. For those who dress in their finest garments, cooking classics such as lechon, queso de bola, ham, and family home recipes, the traditional Noche Buena is the festive event that usually doubles as a gathering. Food, after all, binds all individuals around the globe. But some serious munching is happening in the Philippines. Without the roasted pig, or lechon, an entire pig, which can weigh between 10 and 20 kilos, no Filipino Christmas table is full. Rows of roasted pigs run through the sidewalks in La Loma, Quezon City, which is considered the Lechon capital of the Philippines, with thick bamboo sticks. For around ₱5,000 to ₱8,000 per lechon, one lechon stall sells approximately 200 pieces a day.
This is also the time that it is enabled for children and adults alike to open their gifts. Doing what is called exchanging presents is a tradition in the family or in the workplace. This characteristic, embodied mainly by the tradition of Filipino hospitality, trickles down to how the holiday season is celebrated by Filipinos. Exchanging gifts is also considered an essential step in solidifying business ties.
The main explanation behind this long-standing Christmas celebration tradition is that Filipinos are really into everything that will encourage them to rejoice with loved ones and spend more time with them. It is their psychological structure for massive gatherings to count down the days. On September 16, 100 days before Christmas begins, but Filipinos still want to start celebrating longer. They will be able to properly plan their time by understanding exactly how much time they have to complete a mission, instead of worrying about it. A countdown of 100 days also serves as a secondary motivator and strengthens them before the big day to complete their Christmas tasks. In other words, as an excuse to buy presents, to put up the Christmas tree and other decorations, to prepare Noche Buena, and to organize Christmas parties, the Filipino way of thinking is hardwired to the months before Christmas.
Most importantly, Filipinos use the Christmas season to get together over good food like how Filipino ancestors did with families, friends, and colleagues who they have not seen during the year. Perhaps the reason why this tradition has been passed on from generation to generation successfully.