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A Magical Christmas in the Philippines

%28My+family%E2%80%99s+Christmas+Tree+for+the+year+2022+in+the+Philippines%2C+decorated+with+ornaments+that+are+special+to+us.+All+of+my+family+pitched+in+help+to+decorate+the+tree%2C+alongside+blasting+off+Christmas+songs.+Kyle+Martin+%2F+Stagg+Online%29%0A
(My family’s Christmas Tree for the year 2022 in the Philippines, decorated with ornaments that are special to us. All of my family pitched in help to decorate the tree, alongside blasting off Christmas songs. Kyle Martin / Stagg Online)

As the festive season approaches, my heart swells with excitement, anticipating the warmth and joy that only Christmas in the Philippines can bring. From the moment the clock hits midnight on Sept. first, the sound of Christmas bells and carols begin playing in every corner, colorful “parols”, or giant stained glass ornaments lighting up the night sky, and the sweet aroma of, “bibingka” and, “puto bumbong” , wafting through the air–it’s a sensory overload that instantly transports me into the heart of the Filipino Christmas spirit.

This year, the holiday season brings with it a tinge of nostalgia, as I find myself (7000 miles away in America as opposed to away from the familiar warmth of home in the Philippines. Yet, it is a time of reunion and new friendships, a season to forge bonds with relatives long unseen and to cherish the company of newly met companions. It is not sadness that fills me, but a wistful longing for the crisp morning air and the vibrant bustle of my hometown’s streets.

The Philippine skies come alive with the glow of parols, traditional Filipino lanterns that adorn home and streets. Crafted with intricate designs and vibrant colors, these lanterns symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, guiding the way to the true meaning of Christmas. The warm, inviting glow of parols transforms neighborhoods into enchanting wonderlands, fostering a sense of unity and festive spirit.

(Yellow Parols in a wooden arch that lights up the night sky. The parols completes the spirit of Filipino Christmas as it symbolizes light over darkness. Alfredo Hernandez / Mambulaoans Worldwide Buzz)

No Filipino Christmas would be complete without the lively and colorful “noche buena”. Gathered around the table with family and friends, as we indulge in a feast of traditional Filipino dishes. From the savory lechon, crispy and golden, to the aroma of the, “bola the hamon”, every bite is a celebration of Filipino culinary heritage. The exchange of gifts follows, and laughter resonates through the room as we share the joy of giving and receiving.

(Puto bumbong is a purple rice cake that is steamed and topped with freshly shaved coconut flakes and brown sugar. It is the backbone of Filipino street food in the season of Christmas. Magili Maricar/ Atlas Obscura)

Caroling is the pinnacle of our Christmas symphony, a tradition that unites and delights in equal measure. My siblings, cousins, and friends would venture out into the neighborhood, our voices rising in song, sometimes accompanied by dancing. One of the most sung Christmas carols is “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit”, every Filipino know the lyrics by heart, some other Christmas carol songs are Maligayang Pasko at Masaganang bagong taon, silent night, o’ holy night, etc. The magic lies in the community’s response to our caroling, no one turns us away empty-handed, offering money, food, or pre-arranged gifts as tokens of appreciation. (what songs are traditionally sung?)

As the countdown to Christmas Day begins, the anticipation is palpable. Markets bustle with activity, vendors calling out their wares, from colorful textiles to handcrafted gifts. The spirit of “pasalubong”–the cherished Filipino tradition of bringing home gifts from one’s travels, bringing home presents fromone’s travels, is embraced wholeheartedly as people search for the perfect gifts to express their love and gratitude. The act of gift-giving is a cherished ritual, reflecting the deep-seated value of “kapwa”, or the shared inner self, and recognizing our interconnectedness.

All of these traditions are significant in how Christmas is celebrated not only to me but to every Filipino. From the bustling jeepneys blaring Jose Mari Chan Christmas songs to Lechons, reminds me that Christmas in the Philippines is not just a celebration but a tapestry of shared moments and enduring values. Each tradition, handed down through generations, weaves a narrative of love, joy, and unity, making every Filipino Christmas a unique and heartwarming experience. The magic of these timeless customs has left an indelible mark on my heart, and I carry the warmth of these traditions with me as I bid farewell to another enchanting Christmas in the Philippines.

(Vibrant jeepneys in a terminal waiting for passengers. While the conductors are waiting for passengers they would blast Christmas songs to feel the spirit of the Filipino Christmas. Naomi Gregorio / Stanford Future Bay Initiative)
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