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Lifestyle, Rachelle Belaro

Christmas 101: Philippine symbols and traditions

The Filipinos are known to have the longest Christmas season. The moment the –Ber months come, families start to decorate their homes, and radio stations start to play Christmas songs.  But the Christmas season does not end there. Filipinos celebrate up until the Epiphany or the Feast of the Three Kings.

Aside from that, Filipinos celebrate Christmas in ways that are truly remarkable and unforgettable. We have symbols and traditions that have been a constant reminder that Christmas is really in the air and that it is the time for sharing.

Here’s a list of the most popular Filipino symbols and traditions during the Christmas season:

Parol. The parol is a term used by Filipinos which pertains to the Christmas lantern. Usually, it is shaped as a five-pointed star and is made from bamboo or rattan sticks for the skeleton, and rice paper or cellophane for the cover. It comes in different colors and sizes and there are instances wherein light bulbs are placed inside the lantern. The parol symbolizes the qualities of the Filipinos such as ingenuity due to the indigenous materials that are used in the parol making process and being hopeful since Filipinos tend to have something to look forward to during the holiday season.

Belen. The Filipinos are known to be religious and in line with that, the nativity scene is usually showcased during the holiday season in what we know as belen. There are different materials that could be used in doing the belenpaper mache, tree branches, etc. It all depends on the creativity of the people who build the belen and the message that it portrays. More often than not, the belen is usually seen in churches or in schools.

Christmas Lights. One of the few things that signal the start of the Christmas season is the decoration of rooms, buildings and houses with Christmas lights. These usually come in different colors and designs. Christmas lights also come in different sounds and lighting patterns, which makes the viewing a little more special. No matter how simple or extravagant the designs may be, a couple of Christmas lights can make the wait till Christmas day more exciting.

Monito Monita. Monito monita otherwise known as kris kringle, is the Filipino version of the Secret Santa. Friends, colleagues, or family members pick a name from a box in order to find out whom they will be giving gifts to. There are instances where in a theme is given and the participants must find a gift that suits the theme. Sometimes, it lasts for days or even weeks but the goal is to give the gift without the recipient finding out that you’re his/her monito/monita.

Simbang Gabi. Filipinos, especially the Catholics, begin the final countdown for Christmas through the Simbang Gabi. It starts on December 16 and lasts for nine days. Supposedly, the mass is celebrated at the wee hours of the morning but there are anticipated masses already available so people can start attending the Simbang Gabi at the evening of December 15. There is also a belief that your wish will come true if you attend the nine days of Simbang Gabi.

Caroling. From children to adults, caroling would never be out of the list of activities during the Christmas season. Christmas songs fill up the air time in radio stations and Filipinos go from house to house to sing them too. Most of the time, people hold caroling in exchange for some monetary donations while a few groups do it just for fun.

There are more symbols and traditions that are associated with the Christmas season in the Philippines but what’s important is the reason why we celebrate and whom we celebrate it with. As long as we are with our loved ones, no matter how simple our celebrations may be, we will be having fun for sure.

So what are you waiting for? Go buy your gifts, eat those Christmas treats and listen to those Christmas carols. Make sure that you make this Christmas memorable and enjoyable. After all, Christmas only happens once a year.-Rachelle Belaro


About aitsalimbay

The official newsletter of the UP Asian Institute of Tourism.


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