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A Traditional Filipino Christmas


The Virgin Islands community is seeing a steady increase in the Filipino population and as it approaches the festive season, Virgin Islands Life and Style Magazine will look at traditional Christmas celebrations in the Philippines as a way of honouring a segment of our society.

Christmas is one of the biggest holidays in the Philippines and as one of the two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia, the archipelagic Southeast Asian country is home to the world’s longest Christmas season. The festive season gradually begins by September and reaches its peak in December during Christmastide – Christmastide is a liturgical season in most Christian churches, especially Roman Catholics, and it typical goes from Christmas Eve to January 5. Nonetheless, the festivities in the Philippines can last until the third Sunday in January, known as the feast day of the Santo Niño de Cebú (this translates in English to the Holy Child of Cebu- a city in the Philippines).

Christmas Traditions in the Philippines

Filipino Christmas traditions are many and they range from the familiar Christmas traditions of western society to more traditional ones that are deeply rooted in Spanish history and Roman Catholicism. These include feasts, caroling, gift-giving, and lantern-building just to name a few.

Simbang Gabi

Simbang Gabi is a series of late-night masses held in the nine days leading up to Christmas, the last and main one being on Christmas Eve. It begins late in the night and run into the wee hours of Christmas morning.


This is gift-giving with a twist which is a popular and favorite Filipino Christmas tradition. Instead of simply giving the gift to someone, what will happen is the gift is presented to everyone gathered and they will try to guess what is inside. Once the guessing is finished, the gifter then sings “I Love My Manita/Manita Yes I Do” as they hand the gift over.

The red envelope or ang pao

“Aunties” and grandparents gift children money over the Christmas period in either red or blue envelopes. These envelopes are created especially for this and are called “ang pao”. If you get a big blue one, then you need to remember to be very grateful toward your aunty or grandparent for the whole of the next year.

Misa de Gallo

Misa de Gallo is the climax of the nine midnight masses in the lead-up to Christmas Eve. It usually centers around the birth of Jesus and involves lots of lights, candles, projector shows, and possibly a re-enactment of the birth.  The belief goes that if you have attended all nine Simbang Gabi masses in the lead-up to Misa de Gallo, then you can make a wish on the final night.

Noche Buena

Noche Buena is the Christmas Eve meal held after Misa de Gallo. The lavish feast is held to welcome in Christmas Day with many people waking up to attend it. Large quantities of food are prepared together with the actual feat of cooking the meal being as much a part of the tradition as the eating.

Feast of the Three Kings

The whole Christmas season in the Philippines is finished off with another big feast called the “Epiphany”, or the Feast of Three Kings. Held on January 6 or the first Sunday in January, it celebrates the three wise men who travel to see Jesus in the manger.

Traditional Filipino Christmas food

The meals prepared by Filipinos during Christmas varies by region and recipe. They go from noodles to spring rolls, to Buko salad. Nonetheless, Christmas presents a time for family to draw closer and do things as a family. After nine days of mass, Filipinos celebrate Christmas Eve with the traditional Noche Buena feast.

Some favorite Filipino Christmas meals include:

Lechon: Slow roast pig served with crispy crackling, and stuffed with peppers, pineapple, chilies, ginger, and lemongrass. Dipping sauces accompany it on the side.

Bibingka: A sweet and sticky coconut rice cake often served by street vendors around Christmas time. It is cooked in a clay pot and eaten in your hands.

Pinoy-style spaghetti: Sweet-style noodles with cut-up hotdogs and ground beef. Smothered in a sauce made from banana ketchup, sugar, and tomato paste.

Embutido: Ground pork meatloaf with veggies, cheese, and raisins. It is stuffed with hard-boiled eggs, more raisins, ham, and cut-up hot dogs.  This is often served as a dish at Noche Bueno.

Lumpiang ubod: Filipino spring rolls made for sharing. They are stuffed with shrimp, heart-of-palm, veggies, coconut, and pork. Various dipping sauces are served on the side.

Buko Salad: A very sweet fruit salad made with shredded coconut, various fruits, jelly, sweets, tapioca, and sugar palm, and topped with condensed milk and cream.

Leche flan: Similar to creme caramel in western countries, this flan is made with cooked condensed milk and caramel and served cool.

Puto bumbong: Another rice cake, but this time served in the home for Noche Buena. The purple-coloured dessert is made with steamed glutinous rice and cooked in a bamboo pole. Warm butter, grated coconut, and brown sugar are spooned on top, and the whole pudding is wrapped in banana leaves.

Saying Merry Christmas in the Philippines

The Philippines have eight major languages and each one has their own special season greeting. Below are some season’s greetings used in the Philippines.

  1. In Tagalog: “Maligayang Pasko”
  2. In Llocano: “Naragsak nga Paskua”
  3. in Ilonggo: “Malipayon nga Pascua”
  4. In Sugbuhanon or Cebuano: “Maayong Pasko”
  5. In Bicolano: “Maugmang Pasko”
  6. In Angalatok or Pangasinense: “Maabig ya pasko” or “Magayagan inkianac”
  7. In Waray: “Maupay Nga Pasko”

There are many things that make Christmas in the Philippines unique. Their four-month-long celebration, bright lights, and delicious foods are just a part of it.