Christmas is the most important holiday in the Philippines. Christmas carols start playing as early as October and though Christmas trees are rare because they're not indigenous to the tropics, lanterns called parol start showing up at every window.
On December 16th, the Misa de Aguinaldo (Gift Mass) begins and lasts for nine days, capped by the Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster) on Christmas Eve. Those who attend are fortified by steaming salabat (ginger tea) with puto bumbong or puto bibingka (native rice cake delicacies) offered by vendors on the way back from church.
My family usually stayed up on Christmas Eve playing board games while my grandmother made hot frothy cocoa with her chocolaterra (a heavy copper pitcher with a wooden beater). Outside, a steady stream of neighborhood children dropped by and sang christmas carols.
At the stroke of midnight, we wished each other Merry Christmas and partook of dinner called noche buena. There was usually baked ham, cheese, apples, grapes and pastries -- a carryover from our colonial past -- and native specialties like pansit guisado (stir fried rice noodles), rellenong manok (stuffed roast chicken), rellenong bangus (stuffed baked fish) and leche flan (caramel custard).
Filipinos are predominantly Catholic and most attend Christmas Day mass in their best holiday finery. The rest of the day, children visit their godparents and kiss their hand as a sign of respect; the godparents in turn usually give them money as aguinaldo (gift). I remember doing that when I was little, riding in a tricycle (motorbike with a sidecar, the native version of a taxi) with my nanny and making the rounds.
Christmas dinner was usually at my aunt's. Her husband was a good cook and never failed to impress. Relatives from all over came to this dinner, and visiting with my various cousins as we showed off our new outfits and toys was always fun.
In this country, we let go of some old holiday traditions and took up new ones, but spending Christmas with family will always remain. Today we're off to a cousin's house to celebrate with numerous relatives and friends. From my family to yours, Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon!
Image from tatakpilipino.com.
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