When you think about Christmas, the Philippines probably isn’t the first country that comes to mind. Many of us think about snowy days, cozy sweaters, and toasty warm treats.
However, Filipinos celebrate Christmas in a pretty huge way!
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My family is involved in a ministry that has a branch in the Philippines, and my son has gotten the opportunity to serve there. He loves his time there, as well as the people that he meets. Each time he gets off the plane, the first thing he tells me is that he can’t wait to go back!
However, his trips are always in the summer, so he’s never been there at Christmas. That’s why I was excited to hear from one of my amazing readers, Ainjele, who is a homeschool mom in the Philippines. She generously offered to help me write this unit study and share about her culture! (Thank you, Ainjele!)
I learned a lot, and am really looking forward to incorporating some Filipino traditions into our Christmas this year. I hope you’ll join me!
Christmas in the Philippines
Christmas in the Philippines isn’t just a December event. The celebrations actually start in September, which is the start of the “-ber” months.
Something that Filipino culture is known for is its food and hospitality! Traditional dishes vary by region and province, but there are some that are widespread.
Because different cultures have either colonized or influenced the Philippines over the past few centuries, Filipino traditions include a mix of Japanese, Spanish, and American ideas. But running through it all is a sense of joy and history that is very unique to the Philippines!
The Philippines is an archipelago, or group of islands, off the coast of Asia. It is east of Vietnam and north of Malaysia. There are actually over 7,000 (!) islands in this nation, but the three main groups of islands are Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
It’s really a gorgeous nation with a huge variety of things to see and do!
- The number of islands in the Philippines actually changes on a regular basis! Some disappear underwater at high tide, and some appear at low tide. Learn more about this here!
- On a map of Asia, find and label the country and main islands of the Philippines. Also, label the countries nearby: China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, and North and South Korea.
- The Philippines is divided into 16 regions and 80 provinces. Each region or province has its own background and traditions. You can learn more about them in this short video!
My son raves about Filipino food, and I’ve had fun over the past couple of years learning to cook Filipino dishes. (I have a feeling mine aren’t anywhere close to what he’s had in the Philippines, but he’s gracious with my attempts!)
- Rice is a staple food in the Philippines, used in both savory and dessert dishes. Bibingka is a cake made from sweet rice flour. It looks delicious!
- Puto bumbong is another type of rice cake. It is usually purple, since the rice used to make it is purple. Puto bumbong is cooked inside bamboo tubes, so it is cylindrical in shape. It may look a bit odd at first to western eyes (since we’re not used to bright purple food), but it’s actually really pretty. From what I’ve heard, it’s also delicious!
- Both of these Christmas treats are served with either hot ginger tea, called salabat, or a hot chocolate drink made from real cacao. They’re served by vendors outside of churches after Christmas Eve Mass. They are also available from restaurants or food stalls in the malls!
- The Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) feast is celebrated in many cities and includes foods like ham, cheese balls (queso de bola), and special family dishes. This meal is held at midnight on December 24. This tradition is not as common in rural areas.
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- Christmas lanterns called “parol” can be found just about everywhere during Christmas. They can be made very simply, or they can be elaborate. Some areas have beautiful lantern festivals. Learn more about them in this short video!
- Many Christians in the Philippines are Catholic and attend Mass services called Simbang Gabi between December 16 and 23. Simbang Gabi literally translates to “Going to Mass at night,” but often the services are held very early in the morning before sunrise.The services culminate with the Misa de Galo, or Christmas Eve Mass. There is a tradition that says that when a person completes the Simbang Gabi, their wishes will come true.
- Christmas trees are popular in the Philippines! These trees are a little bit different than what many of us are used to though, since evergreen trees are not native to this country. Instead, they are made of metal, plastic, or wood!
- Christmas is a time for family reunions and a gift-giving tradition called Aguinaldo, in which children visit their godparents and receive gifts.
Activities and Projects
- Make your own parol (lantern) with this fun tutorial!
- You can also make a Filipino Christmas tree! Ideas can be found by Googling this term. Be creative – what will your Christmas tree look like?
I hope you have fun with this study, and that you are able to discover more about the Philippines!