The Christmas celebration in the Philippines is the longest Christmas seasons in the world, starting as early as September and running into January. The season overlaps the country's peak tourist season as people from various countries with harsh winters come to escape the cold.
Filipino Christmas traditions are a unique mix of local, Hispanic, and American traditions. The Christmas music, which is ubiquitous from September on, includes things like "White Christmas"; that became the best-selling record in history when it was released in 1942, partly because so many Americans in the South Pacific were homesick; see Pacific War. It may make some of today's travelers a bit homesick as well, but most can just relax and enjoy the Philippines' many attractions. Other winter tunes like "Jingle Bells" or "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" are also common, and may seem a bit out of place in the tropical climate. "Feliz Navidad" and the occasional carol in Latin are also heard, and there are Christmas songs in several Filipino languages.
The Christmas season in the Philippines is a popular period to travel, and buses, ships, flights and hotels are fully booked. Malls are becoming more packed during the beginning of the Christmas season. The season's peak is from November, after All Saints Day, through Christmas and New Year.
The Filipino Christmas season kicks off as early as September, the start of the "ber" months, when the Christmas countdown starts; a few houses may be decorated for Christmas by this month, and radio stations may begin playing Christmas music by this time. The religious observances starts on December 16, the day the 9-day Simbang Gabi and Misa de Gallo begins, and ends at Epiphany. Some people also include the Feast of the Black Nazarene and the Feast of the Holy Child (Santo Niño) as part of the Christmas period.
Filipino Christmas traditions differ by region and by ethnic group, but they share common origins; most Filipino Christmas traditions are influenced by Spanish and American culture. Caroling may begin as early as October, where it overlaps with the old Filipino tradition of pangangaluluwa just before All Saints Day. Filipinos celebrate Christmas parties as Christmas draws near in December, when schools and companies will soon begin their Christmas and New Year break. Parols (star-shaped Christmas lanterns) and belen (Nativity scenes), traditional Filipino Christmas decorations, can appear along with Western decorations like Christmas trees and Santa Claus figures.
New Year is a major holiday in the Philippines, and is marked by noise, merrymaking, and traditions stemming from Chinese and Spanish culture. Filipinos make noises, play loud and fast music, and light up firecrackers and fireworks, believing they will scare evil spirits away. Families eat a midnight dinner (Medianoche), and do other traditions they believe to bring good luck and a prosperous year, such as having a basket with 12 round fruits at the dinner table, wearing clothes with polka dots, giving out ampaw (red envelopes), and scattering money in the house.
- September 16 - The 100 days to Christmas begins. Major broadcasters, some shopping malls, news outlets, institutions and brands in the country start a traditional and official countdown to Christmas this day.
- November 1 - All Saints Day (Undas, Araw ng mga Patay or Todos los Santos). Cemeteries are filled with families visiting the tombs of deceased family members, and families hold reunions. All Saints Day is a major national holiday; it forms part of the major school vacation period before Christmas and New Year. The surrounding holiday period is marked by a mass exodus of city-dwelling Filipinos that puts the transportation system under pressure; buses, ferries, and planes are fully booked, and highways out of Manila become congested before and after. It is inadvisable to travel to the Philippines during the All Saints Day holiday period, but some foreign visitors already flock the country's beaches and resorts as winter comes in the north.
- December 8 - Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Pista ng Inmaculada Concepcion). A day of obligation for Filipino Catholics, it has since been turned into a national holiday since 2017. Some places may hold parades of images of the Immaculate Conception.
- December 16-24 - Simbang Gabi and Misa de Gallo, culminating with the Midnight Mass called Misa de Aguinaldo.
- December 24 - Christmas Eve (Bisperas ng Pasko)
- December 25 - Christmas Day (Pasko)
- Last Sunday of December - Feast of the Holy Family
- December 31 - New Year's Eve (Bisperas ng Bagong Taon)
- January 1 - New Year (Bagong Taon). Midnight is marked by fireworks and firecracker, noise and parties. Most businesses, including malls, are closed for the day; some will open for part of the day.
- January 6 - Epiphany (Tatlong Hari), marks the traditional end of Christmas. Most Christmas decorations will be gone by this time.
- January 9 - Feast of the Black Nazarene. It is highlighted by the Traslación, where the image of the Black Nazarene (Itim na Nazareno) is paraded through parts of Manila, from the Quirino Grandstand to Quiapo Church.
- January 16 - Feast of the Infant Jesus (Santo Niño) and Sinulog Festival.
Chinese New Year, whose date varies with the Chinese lunar calendar, is considered the end of the Christmas by some, especially Filipino Chinese. This can make the Christmas season even longer, ending at either late January, early February, or Valentine's Day (February 14), wherever the holiday falls.
Christmas decorations spring up by early to mid-November, and dismantled by early January, though you may find places decorated for Christmas earlier. Some churches may keep their Nativity scenes until Candlemas (February 2).
Weather and climate
The Filipino Christmas and New Year season falls at the end of the wet season and the beginning of the dry season (or the cool season in the northern parts of the country). September to early November is marked with rainfall at their highest, with chances of typhoons striking the country. Mid-November to early January, the peak season, shows a decrease in rainfall and a slight drop in average temperatures, as the cool northeast monsoon (amihan, literally "north wind") comes into the country from Siberia. However, this pattern is far from uniform, with the eastern and southern parts of the country having the most rainfall during November and December.
While a "white Christmas" forms a common theme in Christmas decorations, Filipinos instead expect a mild Christmas from the cool breeze brought by the amihan wind. This means cooler nights, which forms the atmosphere of the Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo.
Mountainous areas such as Baguio and the Cordilleras have cooler temperatures during the peak of the holiday season, and many go there to enjoy the cool breeze and the pine trees. Frost is not uncommon, especially on mountaintops, but when the mercury drops below 10 °C (50 °F), it can cause frostbite destroying vegetable harvests. Snow has never been reported in any mountainous area of the country, though there are rumors there are in Mount Pulag's peak.
The Filipino Christmas experience is further perpetuated by songs, many intended for overseas audiences who feel the nostalgia for the season. Christmas songs are usually played at the beginning of November, after All Saints Day. While you can hear popular Western hits like Jingle Bells, Last Christmas, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and White Christmas played in the audio inside malls, most local radio station, with the possible exception of stations that broadcast in English, choose to focus on Filipino songs (in English or native languages) that better illustrate the Filipino tradition.
- Ang Pasko ay Sumapit, a traditional Christmas song originally written in Cebuano, tells the Filipino Christmas experience in a religious motif. It is often played with Pasko na Naman consecutively when broadcast in radio stations.
- Christmas in Our Hearts (1990), an English song by Jose Mari Chan, tells the common Filipino Christmas experience and the Biblical narrative.
- Pasko na, Sinta Ko (1977), written by Francisco Dandan, and sung by the University of the Philippines Concert Chorus. It is a sentimental Christmas song in Tagalog, inspired by the story of one of the choir's members, whose wife left for the United States. There are many cover versions of this song, most notably the 1988 version by Gary Valenciano, which was used in a film and has been the staple of Christmas radio playlists.
- Media network ABS-CBN and GMA produces Christmas music videos that are played as their station identification from mid-November until Christmas. Some hit station ID songs like Star ng Pasko (2010) and Thank You Ang Babait Ninyo (2014) have gained widespread popularity, and you may also encounter them in Christmas playlists by radio stations and audio systems in public places, and also performed live.
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Christmas and New Year falls at the best season for travel to the Philippines, and is also a hectic period for transport and accommodation. It is advisable to make reservations in advance (3-6 months at least before travel) and allow more time to get around, if you decide to go.
Airports operate above capacity during the Christmas and New Year season, as many overseas Filipinos head home, and some foreigners flock the country's beaches and resorts.
Many cities and towns throughout the Philippines set up giant Christmas trees in parks and plazas. Shopping malls may also set up Christmas trees on large open spaces.
Parol, or star-shaped Christmas lanterns, is intrinsically central to the Filipino experience; the facades of homes and churches are decorated by those during the season's peak. You may also find them hanging on street lights in barangays, and some cities and towns. They serve as the local equivalent to Christmas trees, while also present in the Philippines, is not part of the local culture.
Many cities and towns illuminate their main streets with Christmas displays in addition to the parol. One example is Makati's Ayala Avenue, where its tree-lined median shine with lights as November comes in.
Many cities and towns host Christmas displays between November and early or mid-January. These displays are generally placed around public locations like parks/plazas, city or town halls, malls and churches. Themes of each display are diverse, but an almost ubiquitous feature of the displays are the giant Christmas tree. Some places might have mock winter-themed displays and snowflakes.
Locals also decorate their houses a lot during Christmas season, as simple as a parol hanging on the porch or balcony, or as ornate as those with Christmas lights, Nativity scenes, Santa Claus figures, toy collections, and other decorations. Some streets with many houses decorated for Christmas have become seasonal tourist attractions; one example is Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong, which have become a visitor attraction for Christmas since the 1980s.
Filipinos observe the nine days of early masses called Misa de Gallo (or Simbang Gabi, for one held at the evening), following the Hispanic tradition. There is also the old legend that if you attend all the nine Masses, anything you wished will be fulfilled on Christmas Day.
You can see children who sing Christmas carols from house to house, or performing live in public locations; just prepare some peso coins or bills to give them if you meet them outside. You may even encounter street children singing carols during traffic jams, going on stopped vehicles or hopping on buses or jeepneys, but it is inadvisable to give them any money.
New Year is marked by noise and parties. You'll find and watch firecracker popping and exploding in the streets in addition to fireworks lighting up the skies, and locals making noise, from blowing a torotot (New Year horn) and clanking pans and stew pots, to honking of horns and playing loud and fast music. Cities, towns, and barangays hold public New Year parties, where you can have Medianoche and watch fireworks displays with locals.
The Christmas season is also a major shopping period for Filipinos: flea markets, bazaars and shopping malls are filled to the extremes. Companies give their employees bonus money that they can use to shop.
Major malls also host Christmas sales like in the West, but unlike there, malls and shops are open on Christmas day. Black Friday as the peak period of Christmas shopping is not observed in the Philippines; instead, 11-11 (November 11), which has its roots in the Chinese retail industry, is considered its equivalent in the country, and its date happens to be within the Christmas season.
- See also: Filipino cuisine
Puto bumbong, a steamed rice cake dyed violet, is a Christmas favorite, especially during Simbang Gabi, where they are frequently sold.
As a legacy of Spanish rule, Filipinos also observe Nochebuena, which traditionally includes the common Christmas ham (hamon), quezo de bola (ball-shaped Edam cheese), and roast pig (lechon). The New Year dinner (Medianoche) usually feature those traditionally eaten at Nochebuena, but with the additional of a basket with 12 different round fruits, which Filipinos believe to bring good luck, and sapin-sapin, a rice cake with three colors.
The Christmas season is also a season when pickpockets lurk in crowded locations; flea markets can be filled with pickpockets, who take the opportunity of the seasonal crowding to steal.
It might be unusual, but typhoons can strike during the busiest of the holidays. It's not uncommon for one to make landfall during Christmas Day or New Year's Day, but they remain a risk throughout the season, which also happens to be at the peak of the typhoon season.
New Year travel in the Philippines can be dangerous; locals light firecrackers and fireworks, that not only leave debris and smoke (that can combine with mist to form smog) once day comes, but can inflict injuries if they blows on you. Rocket-type and triangle-shaped firecrackers, as well as the banned Piccolo firecrackers, are the most notorious causes of injuries; they also account for many New Year-related injuries, especially by children and youth. Fortunately, the risk is low for foreign visitors, and many local governments have been regulating the use of firecrackers, and in one example, Davao City has banned completely the use of firecrackers on New Year celebrations.
Watch for the weather, as cool temperatures also increases the risk of catching diseases like the common cold or the flu. Temperatures may drop below 20 °C (68 °F) even in otherwise-warm lowland regions, so have a light jacket or sweater ready.