As early as when the months of the year begin to end with "-ber", Filipinos are bursting with anticipation for that special magic the Christmas season never fails to yield. Anywhere else in the world, Christmas is a December "thing". Here in the Philippines, however, it lasts all the way into the Feast of the Three Kings, sometimes even onto the Chinese New Year. Indeed, with all the holiday hoopla, Christmastime in the Philippines is anything but boring.
Christmas the Filipino way would not be the same without the "people traffic" inside and outside department stores and tiangges as shoppers clamor to get the best buys of the season. Pinoys at home meanwhile, spiffy up the house with decorations and strategically placed speakers, from which the sounds of Christmas will be heard.
You also have fidgety children and over-anxious parents and yayas who bribe the children into "being good", else Santa Clause doesn't come for a visit this year. Anything for that red fire truck or Barbie doll, the kids would think, but how would they know whether jolly ol' St. Nick is just a fraud or not? Anyway, the trick turns out to be just as good a disciplining method for any other day of the year as it is during Christmas time.
Several traditions remain uniquely Filipino. The misa de gallo for example. Filipinos have been religiously attending these dawn masses, more commonly known as Simbang Gabi, ever since Fray Diego de Soria popularized it in Mexico in 1587. In the Philippines, Simbang Gabi novena devotees brave the dark and morning chill of daybreak to preserve the tradition. Of course, there is always the lure of fresh bibingka and puto bumbong to stiffle the yawns and prevent heads from nodding off to sleep.
The onslaught of parols, paper lanterns made of Japanese paper glued to a star-shaped bamboo frame, is another unique sight to behold. These glittering configurations may be seen hanging everywhere: from window sills, bedecking a tree out on the lawn or hung from street lights, even from highway posts. Sometimes, people fix parols atop one end of a long pole while they bury the other end deep enough into the ground to keep it steady. The more modern parols, the 10-foot plus urbanized ones, decorate the facades of office buildings and hotel lobbies. Aptly, the more modest ones are the kind you see hanging from homes. Whatever the size or shape, parols will always be part of the Filipino Christmas.
Along with the parol, the belen is also a main attraction closely identified with the Pinoy Christmas. The sight of the holy family in a manger with animals and the three kings surrounding it, renders a certain serenity to the household --- a feeling of holiness which just about anyone can use a little bit of during this season.
Of course, every Filipino Christmas is sure to include a noche buena. Sometimes it is a feast of jamon, queso de bola, relleno, roast turkey, castanas, and fruit cake. Sometimes, it's plain pancit, fried chicken, hotdogs and lugaw. It's a feast, nonetheless, and shouldn't really matter as long as the family is together. Getting ready for the noche buena, as far as saving up, decorations and presentation is concerned, may start as early as right after this year's meal. Year-in and year-out, people are putting away any amount of extra cash they might have with hopes of adding yet another "viand" to next year's noche buena table.
The Filipino way of celebrating the yuletide will not be the same without the children's hopeful "mano pos" --- sometimes in the churches, often times in the homes of their ninongs and ninangs. You also have the songs from yesteryears played over practically all the radio stations in town. Sure, the same song might vary a bit, depending on whose version the disk jockey chooses (Gary Valenciano's or Regine Velazquez's "Pasko na Sinta Ko"), but listeners do not usually mind as long as the songs add to their Yuletide merry-making.
Of course, what would Christmas be without the usual caroling and Christmas songs? In the suburbs, kids as young as six years old are taught Christmas carols, accompanied by the jingle of flattened bottle caps strung together through the middle by a thin wire. They are then encouraged to go singing around the neighborhood and along the streets in order to spread some of the yuletide cheer to weary motorists.
As Filipinos are generally musically inclined, there are many people who would not dare pass up a new album, especially if it's a Pinoy Christmas album. A refreshing change to hear original Pilipino music on the airwaves as opposed to listening to "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," many Filipino artists now have their Christmas records in several music bars.
One such album that is undoubtedly OPM is Bukas Palad Music Ministry's "Pasko Na!", which is distributed by BMG Pilipinas. Consisting of 18 orginal songs, mostly penned by founders Fr. Manoling Fransisco, S.J., Norman Agatep and Jandi Arboleda, "Pasko Na!" relives a uniquely Filipino and Christ-centered season.
For those unfamiliar with Bukas Palad, they are a liturgical group composed of college students and young professionals who first got together at the Ateneo de Manila University in 1986. They were the ones who gave strong mass appeal to songs of the Catholic faith such as "Tanging Yaman", "Take and Receive", "Anima Christi" and "Hindi Kita Malilimutan". After eight albums and more than 13 years of concerts around the nation, Bukas Palad offers to the public their latest album which is flavored with the group's own style of a mix of pop, jazz, soul, gospel and broadway-inspired music.
"Pasko Na!" is filled with the energy and soul becoming of the modern, yet traditional, Filipino Christmas. The album guarantees that people are still capable of realizing a Christmas that's liberating and joyful, despite whatever problems the weary year may have brought on. These themes are reflected in such songs as "Himig ng Hangin" and "Pasko ng Paglaya" by Jandi Arboleda and Fr. Manoling, respectively. A must-have for this year's holiday season, "Pasko Na!" is now available in all record bars nationwide.
Filipinos do not really have to be over-flowing with wealth to enjoy Christmas. Expensive decorations and a feast fit for a king at the noche buena table are things most Filipinos can do without. Afterall, as long as there's the family to celebrate the season with and the traditions to make it more meaningful, the Filipino Christmas will always be special, meaningful and endearingly unique.