Saturday, November 26, 2011

8 Filipino Christmas Traditions & Icons

Christmas or Pasko is the most sought-after and popular holiday of the Philippines. As predominantly Christians, It is the time of year when the Filipinos wait and adore the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas season, which begins from 16 December until the first Sunday of January, is also the time for family reunion. It is also during this time when most Overseas Filipino Overseas (OFWs) and balikbayans from different parts of the world came home and visit their native land.

Christmas is not Christmas in the Philippines  without these 8 famous Filipino traditions and icons:

1. Simbang Gabi or Midnight Mass – usually hold at night or midnight from 16 December until 24 December, the Chritmas Eve or Misa de Gallo or Rooster’s mass. It is believed that whoever attends this ritual mass without a break will get his/her wishes.

Midnight Mass in Calgary

2. Bibingka – native delicacy mostly prepared during Christmas. After the Simbang Gabi, eating bibingka or sponge rice cake is a must. In fact, eating it is  synonymous with the Mass.

(image from

Bibingka is a rice flour cake baked with preheated charcoal in the bottom and at the top. To prepare bibingka,  old harvest rice (laon) and water  are left overnight. In the morning, the rice is then grinded with the traditional stone grinder (gilingang bato) or the commercial grain grinder. The rice flour (or galapong) is now mixed with sugar ,egg and vanilla essence. The mixture is then transferred carefully in a special clay dish called bibingkahan lined with a round-shaped banana leaf. Another piece of banana leaf is placed on top of the mixture. The clay dish is then placed on a clay/stone stove where a preheated charcoal is used as fuel (panggatong). A piece of tin with lived charcoal is also placed on top of the clay dish. After 5 – 10 minutes, your bibingka is ready to serve with salabat or ginger ale, made by boiling cut ginger and sweet potatoes.  While hot, the bibingka is spread with margarine or butter and sprinkled with sugar. It is then dipped or eaten with coconut meat.


For special bibingka, the top of the mixture is garnished with salted egg or itlog na maalat (or itlog na pula, because of the color of the shell) 2 – 3 minutes before it is removed from the flame. Instead of salted egg, some put kesong puti (white cheese), or goat cheese.
3. Puto Bumbong –  literally means steamed glutinous rice in a bamboo cylinder. Puto bumbong is a special delicacy with delicate preparation. The rice mixture is cooked over a special cooking implement called “lansungan”, a kettle shaped heat steamer with 2 protruding tubes holding the bumbong or bamboo canon or cylinder. Cooking time is very fast . To make a puto bumbong, you can follow this recipe here.

Puto Bumbong


4. Santa Claus - is the most recognizable icon of Christmas even in the Philippines. As Christmas is becoming commercialized, Santa Clauses of many shapes and sizes are found in almost all big department stores and shopping malls. Capturing a souvenir photo with Santa is a precious memorabilia.

Santa Claus

5.Mangaroling or Singing Christmas carols - is becoming to be confined to Christmas concerts and parties. In the past, children singing Christmas carols in exchange for few coins is a lively tradition. I still remember my days when I and my cousins rounded the nearby streets singing Christmas carols starting on the beginning of Simbang Gabi until Misa de Gallo. The money we collected are divided equally among ourselves. Nowadays, very few children are doing this great Christmas tradition.
6. Parol or Christmas lantern - making and hanging Christmas lantern in the windows, in front of houses, trees and streets makes the season more lively. Nowadays, traditional parols are beginning to be replaced by commercially-made lanterns with elaborate designs and lights. However, the spirit remains.


7. Belen or Nativity - making belen remains a tradition in many parts of the Philippines. A belen is usually composed of baby Jesus in a manger, His mother Mary and step-dad Joseph. Lambs and other domesticated animals, the herders, angels, the 3 Kings and the North Star complete the scene. Nativity in many sizes is found 


8. Ninong at Ninang (Godparents) - are two of the most popular persons during Christmas. These godparents or sponsors,  either during Baptismal (Binyag)  or Reconfirmation (Kumpil) are well-visited during Christmas day by their inaanaks or godchildren. Ninong and Ninang are eexpected to give gifts (money or toys0 to their inaanaks on this special day. Those who tend to hide are dubbed "kuripot" or stingy.

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