Philippine Christmas Customs & Traditions
Pasko Sights, Sounds, Tastes and Smells
My Filipino Christmas Activity Book
*Extended Learning Guide*
We hope you and your family enjoyed our My Filipino Christmas Activity Book with all its fun facts and activities about Christmas in the Philippines.
Enjoy and Maligayang Pasko!
(In case you’ve not gotten your copy yet, you can order here)
What do we see?
It comes in many shapes, sizes and colors. You will find them everywhere in the Philippines. Barangays even have contests and parades!
They can be made from paper, cellophane, capiz shells and even recycled materials!
Why does it mean so much to Filipinos? Because seeing it really feels like Christmas! It evokes memories of family and the nostalgia of childhood.
This video might give you a better idea. Tissues recommended.
How to make parol at home
Depends on how much time you are and how crafty you are!
Here are some options:
How to Make a Traditional Filipino Parol
Here's another version:
Make Your Own Christmas Parol Tutorial
If you're a not-so-crafty parent, this is one that we made from our original Filipino Christmas box.
We have all the paper and bits and bobs cut out for you to make it easier to put together.
Making the tails takes a bit of practice but it's worth it! :)
No time to make a parol? We got you covered.
We have some free Parol Coloring Printables for you to do with your kids.
We also have a lot more parol-related activities in our book!
3. Advent WreathThe Advent wreath is a symbol of the holiday season. A candle is lit every Sunday during the season of Advent, the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas. This is the time where Christians prepare for the birth of Christ.
4. Christmas Tree
In tropical Philippines, most (if not all!) trees are artificial. In some creative barrios and barangays, they'll even be made out of plastic cups or soft drink bottles. They are usually adorned with the usual Christmas decor with some local touches of sinamay (abaca fabric) and pointsettias.
What do we do?
1. We go to church
During the Christmas season, Filipinos attend Simbang Gabi, a traditional nine-day novena mass. It is called Simbang Gabi because it happens at 5am!
2. We give gifts
Gift-giving in the Philippines can be quite a task. People usually start putting their lists together in September. It is not unusual to have a list of over 100 people to give presents to! This is because we love giving gifts to anyone and everyone we see during this time. From classmates, teachers, friends, family, to manong guards (security guards) and karinderya manangs (cafeteria lunch ladies)!
Gifts can range from money (Aguinaldo) in red packets, to small tokens like pens, diaries and soap. Food and gift baskets are also common items exchanged during this time. It does't matter what gift you give, it's the thought behind it that is appreciated the most.
Some Filipino gift etiquette you might want to take note of:
- Filipinos appreciate a wrapped present and will take considerable effort to wrap yours
- When receiving a present, it is usually set aside to be opened in private (unless the giver insists). Don't forget to say thanks or the customary "nagabala ka pa" (you shouldn't have)
3. We pay our respects to family
Christmas is a time of family reunions. Growing up, we would spend Christmas Eve with my Dad's family, Christmas day dinner with my Mom's family and Christmas day lunch with the extend family in the province! It's a lot of family (and a lot of eating).
The most important thing (aside from playing with all your cousins, of course) was to pay your respects to the elders in the family. You usually show this by performing "mano po" or giving them a kiss on the cheek.
How many relatives and homes do you visit during Christmas?
What do we hear?
1. Filipino Christmas Songs
Filipinos love music and Filipinos love Christmas so it's not a surprise that this holiday season has its favorite tracks. You know it's time to start prepping for Christmas (usually in September) when you hear this song and this man everywhere.
Jose Mari Chan, Christmas in Our Hearts
Here's a version with lyrics if you want to karaoke it.
For me, the music that really gives me all the feels is Ryan Cayabyab's One Christmas. The music and the lyrics all speak to my very Filipino heart and it never fails to bring on that can't quite name feeling that wells up in your chest and in your nose and right behind the ears nostalgia. You know the feeling? I want to cry but can't quite but I'm also happy at the same time feeling.
If there is one major motivation for me to teach the kids Filipino, it's for them to understand this album.
Other amazing trivia about this album, it is called One Christmas for a few different reasons, I guess, but mostly because it's sung a capella by the maestro. All the melody and voices are done by one person, him! How amazing is that? Now why this album is so hard to find is beyond me. Personally, this should be required listening for EVERY Filipino.
Listen and smile (and cry).
Ryan Cayabyab, One Christmas
A recent album discovery here. Great renditions, orchestrations and chorale singing. Going for grand Christmas feels here. (Putting this up for me to remember to put it on at Christmas!)
The San Miguel Philharmonic Orchestra & The San Miguel Master Chorale | Pasko Volume 1
Caroling is a popular Christmas tradition in the Philippines. Carollers are usually groups of kids who travel from house to house at night. They sing their favorite Christmas carols and use musical instruments like tansan tambourines and tin can maracas.
Tansan Tambourine (photo credit: pinoywarrior.com)
Tin Can Maracas (photo credit: pinoywarrior.com)
Want to try making the instruments at home? Here's a very detailed video to make the traditional version of tansan tambourines
DIY Christmas Tambourine Filipino Caroling, Vincent Ryan Borres
If you don't have a lot of bottle caps lying around at home. Here's a very kid-friendly version that we have included in our box. You can easily recreate this at home with a few things from the craft or dollar shop.
Campfire Crates, DIY Tansan Tambourine
Click here for more details on how to make it.
Now, what to sing with your instruments? Here are 9 popular Filipino Christmas Carols to learn:
- Ang Pasko ay Sumapit
- Pasko Nanaman
- Mano Po Ninong, Mano Po Ninang
- Heto Na Naman
- Himig ng Pasko
- Paskong Anong Saya
- Pasko na Sinta Ko
- and our personal caroling favorite, Namamasko Po
Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
Another song to learn is the thank you song. After you do your caroling set and you receive the money (hopefully) from the owners of the home, it is customary to sing:
Thank you, thank you,
Ang babait ninyo, thank you (you are so kind, thank you)
This song is an adaptation but you get the gist of the tune when they get to the chorus, "Thank you, ang babait ninyo". Plus it's a nice song. If you still want to learn it, ask anyone who grew up in the Philippines. Pretty sure they know how this rhyme goes.
Christmas parties and family reunions are a great excuse to break the karaoke mike out. Try your voice out with this video of Filipino Christmas songs with lyrics:
What do we smell & taste?
1. Puto bumbong – purple rice cakes steamed in bamboo tubes
This traditional Christmas food is usually sold near churches during Simbang Gabi (Dawn Mass). The puto (steamed rice cake) is cooked in a bumbong (short, thin bamboo tube). Hence the name, puto bumbong!
Bumbong (photo credit: tagaloglang.com)
Traditionally made with pirurutong, an heirloom deep purple (almost black) glutinous rice variant. It served on a banana leaf topped with butter or margarine, coconut shavings and muscovado sugar. Can't find pirurutong? You can get the dish's signature purple by adding food coloring to glutinous rice!
Want to make your own?
Check out this easy to make recipe from foxyfolksy.com
2. Bibingka – rice cake topped with coconut strips, salted egg slices, and cheese
Another Christmas time favorite is Bibingka. You can also find this outside churches after Simbang Gabi but it is also found in specialty shops year round. It is made from powdered glutinous rice, coconut milk, eggs, sugar and butter or margarine. What gives this kakanin (sweets made from glutinous rice and cocount milk) its edge is the way it is cooked.
Traditionally "baked" in a clay pot lined with banana leaf with charcoal over and under the pot. How's that for unique cooking? It also lends a lovely smokey flavor unique to this dish. My favorite part of a bibingka are the toppings: shaved coconut, itlog na pula (salted egg slices) and mild cheddar cheese.
Want to make some with the kids?
Here's another easy make it at home recipe from foxyfolksy.com
2. Noche Buena
In other countries, like Sweden, Spain, Ireland, etc. most families celebrate during Christmas morning. In the Philippines, we celebrate right after the Christmas Midnight Mass. And right after mass comes Noche Buena!
Noche Buena is our Christmas eve meal. It is when families decide to prepare their favorites like Lechon, spaghetti, Morcon, Queso De Bola, and fruit salad. Every family will have their own traditional dishes.
This was my family's menu growing up:
- Queso de Bola
Now how do you eat all of that at midnight? Don't really know, but you do! Then you eat more the next day of course. Not only do you get to fill your belly with good food, but you also get to spend time and bond with your family and loved ones over a meal. Christmas is not for diets.
With my own family now, we have a unique blend of things I grew up with and things my husband grew up with. We'd love to know what your multicultural Christmas menu is!
- Roast Beef
Some Christmas dish options you are easy and you can make at home and add to your own family's menus:
Embutido (photo credit: foxyfolksy.com)
Filipino meatloaf made with ground pork, carrots, bell pepper, raising, egg and vienna sausage. It sounds like a lot but once you have all the ingredients together, it's just a matter of mixing, shaping and steaming!
Do not be fooled. This is not a green leafy salad. It is sweet! It has fruits (kinda)! It is very, very, very good. Made from canned fruits (see, I told you there were fruits, kinda), maraschino cherry, condensed milk and cream. This dessert is not for the faint hearted. Variations could include the addition of coconut shavings, raisins, cheese and macaroni (not my favorites but everyone's got a recipe they grew up on).
What do we say?
Here are some common Christmas words and phrases we use during the season and their translations.
Maligayang Pasko (Merry Christmas)
Manigong Bagong Taon (Prosperous New Year)
Salamat (Thank you)