Six holiday traditions you’ll experience in a Filipino home

From lighting up the night and making noise to extending the holiday season to February, here are six things that make the Filipino holidays special.

In many cultures, big dinners with family and decorations around the home mark the arrival of the holidays. The same is true of Filipino culture, with a few more special additions.

With influences from both the Catholic religion and neighbouring countries, here are six traditions you might see or experience in a Filipino household.

1. The Christmas Star and lights (all the time)

The decorated tree and strings of lights are a mainstay in Filipino homes, but one more item mustn’t be forgotten: a star-shaped Christmas lantern called the parol.

Symbolizing the star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Wise Men to baby Jesus, the more light effects you have on your star, the better.

Sometimes kept in its original plastic, the star must be hung in a prominent window for the entire block to see, and plugged in 24 hours a day during Christmas week. With fireworks gradually becoming illegal in many places, the parol is a great way we keep the holidays bright!

In the new year, don’t bother getting on ladders to take down your lights — another aspect of this Filipino tradition. Just unplug, and keep it all up for next year! When I was growing up, February was the usual “take down” month in my home.

2. Christmas Masses

When you grow up Filipino and Catholic, Christmas morning has a different meaning. After a few rounds of dinner and singing carols or karaoke on Christmas Eve, we head on out to Midnight Mass, then open presents right after!

Save your milk and cookies for merienda (snack), and find out what you got under the tree a whole eight hours before the rest of your friends.

For the hard core early morning risers, Simbang Gabi is a Spanish tradition that involves nine masses that start at dawn on the days leading up to Christmas. North American masses have adapted to different times, and sometimes include serving treats after Mass.

If you complete the whole series of nine masses, consider your Christmas wishes granted.

3. 12 (or more) round fruits

On New Year’s Eve, at least 12 circular fruits must be served to attract good luck and fortune in each of the months of the new year ahead. Many people add one or a few more fruits for good measure.

While we’re on the round theme, wear polka dots, which symbolizes money and fortune. Stripes are acceptable too for long life, similar to the eating of pancit (a Filipino noodle dish).

4. Have a cash stash, and make it rain

Colourful bills and coins spread out to take up the whole image.
Photo Credit: Philip Brewer

Having jingling coins (which are round) and bills either in your pocket or wallet when Media Noche (midnight) arrives means prosperity for the coming year.

You can then unload the weight and scatter the coins around the house so the fortune spreads to everyone in the home. Add more to the areas that need to be more full, like your bedroom or the office.

5. Keep the windows open and the music loud

Open the windows and doors on New Year’s Eve to keep the bad luck out and new energy flowing in. A friend of mine says her family puts coins on the windowsill too, although if any fall off, it might mean a financially difficult year, so use your discretion on that one.

This is the one night of the year when playing loud music is acceptable to drive away evil spirits and energy, so take advantage while everyone else is partying too! Don’t have a stereo system? Pots, pans, and your car horn work just as well.

See (and hear) how the country’s capital does it:

Need more of that good chi? Open your cabinets and drawers, and keep the lights on to brighten up the new year.

6. Your Christmas present … on Filipino time!

If you didn’t find a present under the tree on Christmas, don’t fret. We might have spent all of our time and effort on the party, leaving older children and adults neglected when it comes to gift opening time.

Celebrated on January 6, “Three Kings Day,” also known as Epiphany, celebrates the original gift giving occasion, when the three kings arrived with offerings for the infant Christ.

This is where Boxing Day sales come in handy, and why we need to keep the tree and the lights up longer than everyone else!

There are more traditions (and superstitions) depending on the region and what you choose to celebrate, but whatever you do, have a fun and joyous holiday. Maligayang Pasko (merry Christmas) and maligayang bagong taon (happy New Year)!

Photo by Keith Bacongco

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