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HomeFeaturesChristmas in our Hearts: Unveiling the Sights and Sounds of Pinoy Christmas

Christmas in our Hearts: Unveiling the Sights and Sounds of Pinoy Christmas

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Jose Mari Chan. “Tao po, tao po, namamasko po!” Light-trimmed belens. That sticky, sticky rice cake sold outside Churches to jump-start minds still too bleary to pay attention to dawn sermons.

Saying that Christmas is a major part of the Filipino culture is an understatement. Indeed, there is much ado in setting up Christmas decorations, or seeing parols and light-trimmed Rudolphs being sold and set up at the start of the Ber months (with a Jose Mari Chan ditty providing background noise).

Filipinos flock to the malls to buy anything that is related to Christmas. Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas lanterns, Christmas toys, Christmas anything. And that Belen too. We are suckers for anything related to Christmas etc.

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And then there’s the parties, the shopping (the kind that would punch enough holes in your pockets that would last until February), the manito-manita (Pinoy Kris Kringle), the Christmas parties, and the stomach-bursting Noche Buena (never mind the electric bills for next month dear — there’s lechon on the menu!).

So with a celebration that lasts months, what exactly makes Christmas undoubtedly Pinoy?

DNX gathers these common Christmas stereotypes, the images and sounds that dot every Filipino’s Christmas celebration.

The Ber month Christmas Fever

Christmas in the Philippines officially begins on September (a fact that boggled CNN star, chef and political pundit Anthony Bourdain when he came here to film Parts Unknown). The celebration spills all the way to January (while some even keep their decorations until February).

News channels have 100-day countdowns to Christmas (Filipinos are an excited and excitable bunch) and it’s not rare to find a house with Christmas decorations as early as September.

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Filipinos might buy different things and have different styles but certainly we all start Christmas early!

The non-stop Christmas Caroling

“We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!”

A clash of cans, a jangle of tanzans, an off-key falsetto. Who hasn’t been hounded by these sounds the moment the last vestiges of November are swept away? And really who hasn’t tried their hand (or their throats) at pangaroling?

It’s unique, it’s off-key, and the repertoire usually the same you would think there’s a grand conspiracy somewhere, a cottage industry of off-key renditions of well-loved Christmas songs (something about tinolang manok or what I think is about restaurants having fun, but I could be wrong).

Think of kids huddled together Mafia-like, casing targets, and breaking up into small groups for repeated attacks (because the more, the many-er, right?).

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Haven’t been approached by carollers yet? Then you might be a serial killer decorating your trees with the skins of your victims.

Or you probably live in an alternative universe where there are also no Jose Mari Chans.

Speaking of which…

Jose Marie Chan

Forget Kris Kringle. Or Scrooge. Or the Grinch.

The official mascot and ambassador of Christmas in the Philippines will now and forever be the man who composed Christmas in our Hearts.

And oh, he’s also a meme, appearing in socmed newsfeeds as early as late August.

His songs are omnipresent in malls, mainly because Mr. Chan has cornered the market for catchy commercial carols like “Christmas in our Hearts”, “A Perfect Christmas”, and “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

And they are played day in and out too (or at least until the malls close).

But until then, enjoy (endure?) the JMC earworm (plus the can’t-help-but-have-it LSS).

Because in the Philippines, Christmas is about the Birth of Jesus, Santa Claus is the face of Christmas, and Jose Mari Chan is its official sound.

The lechon

Get the Catapres ready because there is no way that THAT table in front of you wouldn’t have a plate or two of that lovely, crispy lechon, washed down with a liberal amount of any poison of your choice.

The cause of happiness in the Philippines and of hypertension everywhere else, that beautifully, perfectly roasted pig is every Pinoy’s weakness — and with good reason.

Because really who has not made an early beeline to the lechon table and asked for slices of crispy skin, of the precious salty cut by the ribs, or of that pig’s tail (mysteriously gone taken by that very drunk second cousin, twice removed).

Christmas is that perfect time to let go of that diet, and indulge in a slice or two of steaming hot lechon.

But like we have warned, just get that Catapres ready.

Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo

A Filipino tradition that came from the Spaniards, Simbang Gabi is succession of 9 masses that start on December 16 until midnight on December 24 and it usually starts at 4am.

The Simbang Gabi tradition is the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ and serves as a preparation for Christmas.

Families wake up their sleepy kids (promising to feed them at Jollibee or Mcdo as a reward) and head to their chosen Chapel to listen to the sermon of the priest.

Usually, the belief about completing the nine dawns of Misa de Gallo is that a wish or a prayer will be granted.

It’s not just the mass that the crowd is after but also the selling of “kakanin” outside the churches. There will always be bibingka, sapin sapin, puto bumbong and the list could go on but still you cannot make a choice on what to buy when everything is right in front of you.

The Christmas Lantern or Parol

Ah. The Parol. That is symbol of faith and hope for the Filipinos.

The parol is another tradition imported by Spaniards when Magellan laid claim to the land in the name of his funders.

The lantern or parol can be seen all over the country like in streets, houses, churches, and schools, symbolizing THAT star that guided the Magi in their search for the Child Jesus.

The parol is so deeply-ingrained in the nation’s subconscious that even a little kid can make it with one hand tied behind his back (or maybe with a little help from mum, just to maintain that grade). See, it’s not just a symbol of hope.

It is also an art project.

The Philippines’ Christmas landscape would never be complete without these sights and sounds but these are what make the season truly Pinoy.

True, the celebration’s roots might be foreign, but we have made it invariably ours.

Now excuse me.

I have that tanzan to flatten for that makeshift tambourine.

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