Lords a leaping? Eleven facts about Christmas in the Philippines

Christmas decorations in Davao

1. The Filipino is the longest in the world (as you may have noticed by now). It isn’t unusual to see decorations already in place by late August. In many places, the festivities merge into local festivals, meaning the merrymaking can continue well into February. (For example, see our report on the Ati-atihan festival here)

2. Historically, Filipino children didn’t hang up socks or stockings for Santa Claus, instead they left their newest and shiniest shoes outside for the three kings to drop goodies into. This Spanish-era tradition has all but died out today, except in a few isolated areas of the country.

3. Simbang Gabi (or Misa De Gallo) is a series of nine masses held in the run-up to Christmas Eve (December 16-24) at a punishingly early hour — 3am in some cases. Completing all nine is considered lucky.

4. Filipinos have their own version of April Fool’s Day held on December 28, which is Holy Innocents’ Day. Among the “hilarious” pranks traditionally practised is to ask to borrow money, without the intention to pay it back. You have been warned.

5. The unique Filipino Christmas decoration, the star shaped lantern called the parol, was originally based on the Mexican piñata (it’s a long story). They represent the star that guided the three wise men.

6. Nativity scenes, known as “belen” are a big thing in the Philippines, with some scenes featuring animatronic figures with sound and light shows. Tarlac City is known as The Belen Capital of the Philippines and hosts the annual “Belenismo sa Tarlac” festival.

7. There are people who believe that the first Christmas was celebrated in the Philippines long before Magellan planted his cross here. Father Odoric Mattiussi, a Franciscan missionary and explorer, recorded administering  Christmas Mass in a place he called “Thalamasin” sometime between 1280-1320AD. Some people maintain that this place is the modern-day Pangasinan.

8. ”Merry Christmas” in Tagalog is ‘Maligayang Pasko’; in Ilonggo it’s ‘Malipayon nga Pascua’; in Sugbuhanon or Cebuano it’s ‘Maayong Pasko’; in Bicolano they say ‘Maugmang Pasko’ in Pangalatok or Pangasinense they say ‘Maabig ya pasko’ or ‘Magayagan inkianac’ and in Warey Warey it’s ‘Maupay Nga Pasko’.

9. The first domestically-produced Christmas cards in the Philippines weren’t printed until the 1950s.

10. However, the concept was familiar, due to a propaganda by Japanese occupying forces. In 1944 thousands of cards featuring Christmas messages, biblical quotes and anti-American slogans were distributed across the country as the day of liberation approached.

11. Residents of Barangay Tanza in Iloio City celebrate Christmas in a cemetery. A festive decoration competition was founded because cemetery workers said they wanted their annual staff party to be “more lively”.

And if you’re not sick of Christmas already (wherever you are) this short video:

Bah, humbug!