Metro Manila · Guide to Philippine Christmas
Christmas is here! And we cannot stress enough how Filipinos take this holiday very seriously. To make the most out of this festive time of the year in the Megacity, here's our guide on what to expect and what not to miss, featuring crazy Christmas shopping, sparkling decorations, exciting traditions, delicious food, and the art of surviving traffic & traveling during the season.
Decorating the City
Metro Manila, as you may have noticed in the last few days, is bedecked from head to foot with Christmas decorations and thingamajigs.
You can't really miss them: Bright and colorful Christmas lights illuminate major thoroughfares, avenues, landmarks and other structures; the nativity scene decorates not just a few posh houses in exclusive subdivisions but most of them, and Christmas lanterns or parol hang by windows and on walls of homes, malls, and whichever place you can put one.
Like other Megacities, Metro Manila has her own version of Lights and Sounds Show. For instance, Ayala Triangle Park turns into a fantasy land of sorts through its colorful lights that “dances” with the accompanying music.
Even the smell in the air has changed, not in a bad way, mind you. If you've been in the Philippines for long, you know it's different, something you can only sense once December has arrived.
Christmas Shopping and other Preparations
At work, you'd notice that people have become a bit more cheerful, even taking things much slower and leisurely. Their thoughts are on the Christmas bonus and/or the 13th month pay that they've just received or have yet to receive. Not to mention, the upcoming holiday break. Most companies declare the 24th and the 25th non-working holidays. Some office workers take advantage of the opportunity to extend their short break up to the New Year. Many Filipinos have already booked their flights or bought a bus or ferry ticket going back to their provinces for the holidays.
Filipinos abroad have started to arrive in numbers, adding to the bottlenecks in airports, bus or ferry terminals. And this is just the beginning.
An how can we forget mall sales? They're practically everywhere, with discounts that are scandalously low. With the expected influx of Christmas shoppers as well as to help ease traffic, malls have adjusted their opening hours which is now 11 am to 11 pm from the regular 10 am to 9 pm.
Exchanging of gifts is a serious matter for Filipinos. It is customary to give gifts to everyone who is even remotely related to them. Meaning, aside from their loved ones, they give presents or small tokens to the people they encounter everyday like security guards, laundry personnel, janitors, etc.
There are bargain places or bazaars scattered around the metro to help everyone save money on gifts alone. Locals usually prefer to go to Divisoria, the bargain hub of this Megacity. However, it can really get crowded in that area and the place is not exactly a model for cleanliness and orderliness. The best alternative for foreigners is Greenhills.
Traffic and Travel
As mentioned, city traffic during Christmas season is one of the worst. Everyone needs to exercise extreme patience and caution while on the road. Traffic jams have become so terrible that you might consider allotting extra time for travel if you have appointments in the central business districts. Avoid rush hour, much more so at this time of the year. When riding the MRT or LRT, be prepared for the battle of what little space you can squeeze yourself into inside the tube. And we haven't even mentioned the long, long, very long queues just to get on a train. It is best to bring a novel with you. Do not, at all cost, take out your smartphone when lining up or riding any public transportation. If it cannot be avoided, be extra careful when using your electronics while commuting.
While there are rather few news about foreigners getting robbed during the holiday season, locals would still advise their international friends to keep an eye on their personal stuff when in public places as pickpockets or snatchers are everywhere.
Now, if you can't stand the frenzy of activities, crowds, traffic jams – even when they are eased with the looks of colorful illuminated decorations and dressed up clerks at the malls – Christmas season in the city might not be for you.
In that case, just head out of the city and enjoy the holidays in one of the breath-taking places the country has to offer. As mentioned though, most Manilenos will also be spending the holidays in their provinces. Plan your trip early to avoid heavy traffic, congestion and delays in airports or terminals. But if you happen to stay in the Megacity during the holidays, you might end up in ghost town.
All things considered, the genuine warmth of most Manilenos is even stronger during this season. Invite some friends over, share good food and interesting stories and it might be a Christmas you will never forget. Just make sure you have sent the invitations already.
Filipino Christmas Traditions
There are a number of Christmas traditions in the Philippines that foreigners would notice if they are in the country during this festive season. The following are a few of these traditions.
While caroling is done in other parts of the world, Filipino children often go around the neighborhood to sing Christmas and non-Christmas songs to spread the holiday cheer and of course, to get a prize such as candies, chocolates or coins. But what makes this different is they’d even start singing in restaurants and other establishments too. If you walk the streets of the Megacity this time of year, you can be sure that there will be some kids who will follow you around singing Christmas songs.
Foreigners working in the Philippines will likely be invited to a number of Christmas parties. There would be office Christmas parties, dinners with friends, and Christmas parties held by private individuals. Even the barangay where you live will have a Christmas party. In fact, you can be sure that there will be Christmas parties in every nook and cranny of the country.
If you are to attend a Christmas party, you will likely be included in the Kris Kringle so be sure to bring a gift. The gift doesn’t have to be extravagant -a mug or any small item will do.
You will also likely play parlor games complete with prizes when you attend these parties. And of course, there will be lots of food for you to enjoy.
Misa de Gallo
Misa de Gallo (Evening Mass or Simbang Gabi) starts on the 16th of December and ends on the first Sunday of the succeeding year. According to folk belief, those who complete all nine of these masses will be granted one wish.
Christmas Eve Dinner (Noche Buena)
This is the often extravagant Christmas dinners that every Christian family in the archipelago spends for every 25th of December. As mentioned above, this usually entails serving of cheese and holiday ham.
On Christmas Day, Filipinos visit extended family either to give them their gifts or to just greet them a “Merry Christmas”. Filipino children love this time of year because it is when their aunts and uncles, godmothers and godfathers give them gifts in the form of toys, chocolates, and money.
A festive lunch is often served in Filipino homes during Christmas Day and for families who have maintained the tradition of gift-giving, this is the time to open presents if they weren't opened already on Christmas Eve.
Holy Innocents’ Day or Childeramas is celebrated on the 28th of December each year. Not many celebrate this but for those who do, this day is celebrated with practical jokes. One of the practical jokes on this day is borrowing money from someone without any intention of paying it back. It is best not to lend money on this day just to be safe.
New Year’s Eve
Filipinos have lavish midnight feasts on New Year’s Eve. If you are in Metro Manila, it is very likely that the city will be covered in smoke because of all the firecrackers. The air will likely also smell of gunpowder.
Three Kings’ Day
Christmas in the Philippines starts early and ends late. The official end of the holidays is Three Kings’ Day or the Feast of the Epiphany. This is observed on the first Sunday after New Year’s.
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