In the spirit of Christmas
by Ronnie Hoyle
CHRISTMAS celebrations in the Philippines are said to be the longest in
the world and are steadily getting longer...they now seem to begin
somewhere in the middle of October when Christmas songs and carols start
being played on radio and in some supermarkets, but usually people wait
until after they have celebrated All Souls Day on November 1.
After that, stores all over the country start putting up their Christmas
decorations and trying to lure customers.
Officially, Christmas does not start until December 16, according to the
church calendar, but not only does Christmas start early, it continues
for longer...until way past the New Year and seems to continue into
February in some places: some commercial Christmas competitions and
promotions have even been extended to Easter before the prizes have been
The celebrations officially begin in the flower-decked church with the
nine days novena, the prayer period called Misa de Gallo, or Cock’s
Mass, when the religiously devoted are expected to wake up with the
first cockerel call and head for church and the dawn vigil: it continues
until Christmas Eve when they are also expected to return to church for
the Midnight Mass celebrating the birth of Jesus.
On the first day, church bells ring at cock-crow, brass and string bands
may play and sometimes fireworks are set off, although the biggest
display is kept back for December 30 (Rizal Day) and New Year’s Eve and
the start of the next year’s holidays on January 1, but fireworks -
especially ‘bangers’ - explode every day for the whole of December and
into January, causing some deaths and a great deal of injury to hands
Province-wide on Cebu Island during December (on different dates in
different parts of the island) are the Paskuhan festivities, which
include songs and parades of colourful Chinese-style lanterns.
From December 16 onwards, children start touring the streets and the
resorts every night with anything that makes a sound like a drum and
begin their chanting-style carol-singing: expect one group after another
to turn up in rotation looking for their Christmas present or a few
coins and candies with the same song: “We wish you a Merry Christmas…”
for the next few weeks, followed by many adults doing the same thing.
The singing continues until after Christmas, except that the words
change to: “We wish you a Happy New Year…” well into the New Year itself
with children hoping to collect a few more pesos or leftover centavos
before the festive season ends.
Like America and most of Europe, the biggest day is actually Christmas
Eve when the family feast is held: presents are usually given on
December 27 when the Bible says the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem
to offer gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.
Fruit, like oranges, apples, pears or grapes are welcome as gifts since
it ties in with the tradition of eating twelve different round fruits
during the twelve days of Christmas, and most Filipinos cannot afford
’exotic’ fruits which are imported. But as one Filipino scholar has
noted: “Actually, it makes no difference when you give a gift to a
Filipino: it will be acceptable at any time. But do not expect a gift in
return...Filipinos like the idea of receiving gifts, but are not
accustomed to giving them as they do not usually have money to spare.”
Instead, they are more likely to show their generosity and their
appreciation by inviting you into their home and asking you to share
their food and hospitality, since what money and material possessions
they have are usually limited and directed towards the improvement and
welfare of their immediate family.
This applies particularly in the provinces and the countryside where
opportunities for gainful employment are far fewer and less rewarding in
agriculture and fishing.
Again, officially, Christmas ends on January 6, but for people in Loboc,
Bohol, they like it so much that they keep the festivities going until
February 2 and call it the ‘Suroy sa Musikero:’ this is the day when the
town musicians are assigned to cover every area of the settlement where
they eat the food served by their hosts and play and sing to the tune of
‘Kuradang’ or ‘Datga sa Baybayon.’
Kilroy Was Here © 2006