Maligayang Pasko! Christmas in the Philippines: What I Remember

Posted December 22, 2012 by Karen in Extras / 2 Comments

Christmas is a very special time for all of us, and it is for my family as well.  I came to the United States from the Philippines many years ago when I was five years old, so I still remember quite a few things from living there.  I remember Christmas time was a huge celebration that started months before December.  The Philippines, being an overwhelmingly Christian nation  (an influence accumulated  from the country’s period as a Spanish colony from the sixteenth century until the end of the nineteenth),  base their celebrations around the birth of Jesus Christ.  Masses, decorations, and traditions all  centered around the Holy Family.  As early as September, it is not uncommon to see Christmas lights in shops and homes.

An important decoration in the Philippines are the parols.  The importance of the parols may even surpass that of the Christmas tree in the Philippines.  The parol is the symbol of the star that led the three wise men to Bethlehem.  These decorations were made by artisan Francisco Estanislao in 1928 and originally made of bamboo and paper and are displayed throughout towns and villages.

The earliest parols were traditionally made from simple materials like bamboo sticks, Japanese rice paper, crepe paper, and a candle or coconut oil-lamp for illumination; although the present day parol can take many different shapes and forms. Around Manila, parols made of Capiz shell or plastic illuminate the city. One of the most spectacular innovations can be found in the city of San Fernando where 20 foot tall parols with kaleidoscopic blinking lights are paraded through the streets on truck beds. Whatever the material or shape, the parol is a recognizable symbol to all Filipinos and represents the star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Wise Men to the manger of the newly-born Jesus Christ.

Above is picture of our family Parol as it hangs in our window, it’s morning right now so you can’t see the lights flashing. Maybe I”ll put a picture of it later on tonight.

Decorations are a large part of the celebrations. You will see large parols hanging from homes along with Christmas lights and, of course, we have the Christmas tree too.  The decorations on the Christmas tree are are mostly religiously detailed.

A traditional Filipino event is Simbang Gabi, a series of masses held over nine nights culminating on Christmas Eve.  And some of you folks thought you had it bad with just midnight mass!

On Christmas Day young children travel to their adult relatives’ homes. The children dress up in their best attire and visit them while  Godparents, Aunts, and Uncles  pass around small, inexpensive gifts.

Here is a great video I found on YouTube that shows a variety of parols!

Like in the U.S., Filipinos love to eat during the holidays.  They roast a pig, serve traditional foods as well as a special, baked sweet bread called Bibingka.  Below is a recipe for this delicious bread 🙂 Banana Leaf optional 😉

Maligayang Pasko!  (Merry Christmas)

Cassava Buko Bibingka

Serves: 10

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 396g can condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 120g grated cheddar cheese
  • 500g grated fresh cassava (about 2 cups) Optional
  • Meat from 1 buko (young coconut) (about 1 cup) Canned coconut shreds are fine with syrup
  • Banana leaves Optional

Preparation method

Prep: 20 mins | Cook: 55 mins

  1. Mix eggs, coconut milk, condensed milk, and melted butter.
  2. Add half of the cheese. Add cassava and buko and mix well.
  3. Line a baking dish with banana leaves.
  4. Pour mixture into the baking dish.
  5. Bake in preheated oven at 165 degrees C for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when tested for doneness.
  6. Spread evenly the remaining cheese on top.
  7. Bake another 10 minutes or until cheese melts.


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