December 11, 2015
The longest celebrated Christmas season is in the Philippines. The celebrations start as early as September when carolers can be heard singing their jingles for treats and alms. Early as it is, the Christmas spirit is already very strong. You can start to feel a mix of frenzied quiet in the air, and that’s when you know Christmas is here. Aside from the caroling, there are other traditions we Filipinos like to follow, but most of us don’t even know the story behind them. These are the stories behind 4 of the most popular Filipino Christmas traditions.
Simbang Gabi was introduced to the Philippines during the Spanish period to give farmers time to hear mass before they were to go out into the fields. Work had to be done in the morning in order to avoid the noontime heat. It was observed during the 9 days prior to Christmas as a novena. In recent times, Filipinos go to Simbang Gabi as a sacrifice and pilgrimage leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It is common for the youth to use Simbang Gabi as a time to get together in the wee hours when they would otherwise not be allowed to go out.
Noche Buena is a Spanish word referring to Christmas Eve. It was introduced to the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period and has since then been the biggest feast of the year in the Philippines. It is also observed in other Latin American countries, as well as in Spain. In the Philippines, Noche Buena usually starts after the clock strikes 12. After the feast commences, children open their gifts in front of the whole family.
The patterns of the Parol evolved from the paper star lantern design created by an artisan named Francisco Estanislao in 1908. These lanterns were used by barrio folk during Simbang Gabi to light their paths as electricity wasn’t available in many rural areas at the time. The design of the parol evokes the Star of Bethlehem. It also symbolizes hope and goodwill during the Christmas season. Every Christmas, the streets of the Philippines are illuminated with parols of different patterns and design.
The Belen is a three-dimentional art depiction of the nativity scene of Jesus Christ. Usually it is a manger surrounded by Joseph, Mary and the 3 Kings. It is usually set up under a kubo with straw serving as the floor. It was St. Francis of Assissi who introduced the Belen to the Spanish when he asked for a manger made with straw to depict the nativity and used it as his altar for a Christmas Eve mass. The Spanish Franciscans introduced the Belen to the Philippines during the colonial period and since then we have been using the Belen to pay homage to the birth of Jesus Christ.