Filipino Christmas is a lively season centered around religious observances that begins in the weeks leading up to Christmas and lasts until early January. In a predominantly non-Christian Asia, Filipino Christmas stands alone as a devoutly Christian celebration of the season and its original significance. The primary aspects of a Filipino Christmas include attendance at religious services, feasting, and spending time with family and friends.
The majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholic, and their devotion to this faith defines the Filipino Christmas season. Due to the inherent importance of Christmas to the Catholic Church and Filipinos, Filipino Christmas is the most anticipated and celebrated holiday in the Philippines.
Filipinos are proud of their Filipino Christmas, claiming that it is the longest and most festive celebration of Christmas in the world. Beginning on December 16, the Filipino Christmas lasts until Three Kings' Day on January 6. These weeks of Filipino Christmas include attendance at various church services, beginning on December 16 with the first of nine pre-dawn masses leading up to Christmas. The Simbang Gabi, or Christmas novena masses, literally means "night worship," as the church bells in the Philippines begin to call worshippers to the masses starting before 4 am.
Decorations are a significant part of Filipino Christmas---nearly all families decorate their homes with elaborate mixtures of native and western decorations. The most uniquely Filipino Christmas decoration is the bamboo parol, or star lantern. These lanterns are hung in homes and throughout communities and symbolize the star of Bethlehem.
The major celebration of Filipino Christmas occurs on Christmas Eve. Families attend Christmas Eve mass together and then gather for a traditional Filipino Christmas Eve feast late at night. Family, friends, and neighbors often drop in to these buffet-style Filipino Christmas Eve meals, so there is always plenty of food to go around. The feast normally consists of 15 to 20 dishes, including roasted pig, barbecued meats, rice, churros, and cakes. Filipino Christmas Eve festivities typically do not end until the morning of Christmas Day.
Some families choose to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, but others wait until Christmas Day. On Christmas Day, Filipino children often visit their godparents, aunts, and uncles and are given small gifts by their loved ones. Families gather to visit, celebrate the holiday, and feast.
Western Christmas concepts like Santa Claus are present during a Filipino Christmas, but traditional family celebrations still predominate.
Filipino Christmas celebrations are a mixture of indigenous elements, colonial heritage, and western culture. Much of the religious significance of Filipino Christmas comes directly from the Spanish colonial period, and many comparisons have been drawn between a Filipino Christmas and the heavily Spanish colonial influences Mexican Christmas.
Native Filipino elements like the star lantern decorations and traditional Christmas foods and western influences like Christmas trees and carols have also become important aspects of Filipino Christmas.