Childhood Christmas Traditions





by Marcelina

“Maligayang Pasko Po!” is a Christmas greeting (Po -signifies a tone of humbleness) that you rarely hear in the United States. But, for us, Pinoy and Pinay, (Filipino men and women) it’s music to our ears. We are proud to have the longest and merriest Christmas celebration in the world -at least we like to think so. After all, the Philippines is known to be the “Land of Fiestas”.

Our Christmas celebrating starts on December 16th by attending “Misa de Gallo” , a pre-dawn mass also called a “mass of the rooster.” Church bells are heard ringing long before the first rooster’s crow, around 3:00 in the morning - it‘s time to wake up and observe the morning mass, the first of nine. The series of nine mornings night worship or “Simbang Gabi” has been observed by the Filipinos as far back as I can remember. This was our way of gathering to celebrate the close tie with our family. People are anxious to attend these daily morning pre-Christmas masses.

Back in my small village, the folks were content with the evening prayers. The nine days “night worship” may be held in different household early in the evening each night, to bring the spirit of unity to the villagers. Occasionally, when the host afforded it, there may be puto, bibingka or suman (rice cakes) served after the prayers. It seemed like my mom’s household was known for this occasion. But the highlight of all this food preparation and sharing was concluded at midnight of December 24th ., at the“Noche Buena” or the midnight supper.

Like the “Misa de Gallo”, “Noche Buena” is a tradition that was adopted by the Filipinos during the Spanish occupation of the country. The whole family is expected to be present at this midnight supper, a very special dinner. The table is usually loaded with traditional foods that are usually prepared and shared only on this occasion. This is also a time for stories, songs, and dances. The Filipinos love to sing and dance. And there was always a guitarist available to provide the music - we had a number of real good ones in our village. No gift exchanges, for Santa Claus didn’t have any idea where the Philippines was, as far as I recall. If Evergreens are the official Christmas trees, we did not have them either but, we had a variety of fruit trees in our yard that were always abundant with fruits, and adorned with fire flies’ sparkly lights almost every night all year long.

One other tradition that we all enjoyed was the parol (pronounced pah-role) making or star lantern making. The star-shaped form was made of bamboo strips covered with all sorts of colorful papers, and then a personal touch was applied to make it unique and attractive for the parol contest. A plethora of exotic designs was displayed on the day of the competition. The best parol was chosen by the elders of the village. No special gift was expected to be gained, but the winner’s creativity was honored, praised and recognized all year long or until the following year’s contest. In the olden days, the contest was participated in only by men, the women were preoccupied with gathering wood, food preparations and religious observance.

But our Christmas celebration did not stop on December 25th. After the birth of the baby Jesus, all youngsters visited their godmothers or godfathers to show their respect by kissing their hands. In return, a small gift may be received. At the same time,, the town’s Parish priest and a couple of his altar boys were visiting every household in our village to show a baby boy doll- to remind us that our Savior was born. We all kissed the hand of the priest, and a small monetary donation was to be collected. The house-to-house visits were to continue until January 6th, the day we honor the Three Kings who followed the Evening Star that led them to the manger where baby Jesus was born.

Maligayang Pasko Sa Inyong Lahat!  or,  Maupay Nga Pasko Haiyo Ngatanan! (my own dialect's translation) 

 Merry Christmas To All of You!


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