The Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world. It begins the end of September and lasts through January 6 (the feast of the Three Kings in the old calendar). Christmas songs are played over the airwaves and in malls and restaurants. Television shows remind viewers how many days are left till Christmas.
On December 16 "simbang gabi" starts. People would rise in the early hours to attend mass at five in the morning. While it's warm in the Philippines, it gets slightly cooler in December. Outside the church vendors sell freshly made bibingka and puto bumbong*, perfect handwarmers unless you can't wait to eat these till you get home.
Two of the most enduring symbols of Christmas in the islands are the nativity crèche and the parol (Christmas lantern). Many homes display their colorful parols outside their windows so passersby can admire the play of lights. In the old days, the parol was lighted by a candle. Churches have beautiful nativity scenes but many homes have their own crèche. There is a Christmas novena (nine day prayer) that usually begins on Christmas day. This is followed by lunch or dinner. But the biggest dinner of the year is on December 24th when "Noche Buena" is celebrated. The traditional dinner includes salty Chinese ham, queso de bola (ball of Gouda cheese), lots of fruits like apples, grapes and lanzones, and an assortment of Pilipino dishes like pancit canton, lechon, and seafoods including crabs, prawns and milkfish.
Maligayang Pasko to all. Merry Christmas!
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Photos by Charie