By: Sandra Gail Frayna
Growing up in the Philippines, I am used to hearing Christmas carols starting early in September until the celebration of Three Kings. We have what we call Misa De Gallo (early morning mass) starting December 16th till Christmas Eve. This is a 9 day novena mass where I was taught to always make a wish. If I finish this 9 day noveva! (Believe me I am diligent in attending this 4 am mass for a wish!!)
During this time, many vendors are outside the church selling traditional Filipino breakfast like hot bibingka (rice flour cake cooked in a coal burned above and under, similar to a flat cake) , puto bungbong ( a purple sticky rice, steamed.. served with sugar and coconut flakes.), hot Spanish chocolate, coffee, pancakes, usually eaten either on the streets or home. So it looks like a street party! (Filipinos like to party in big crowds! )
In school and with friends in the community, we exchange gifts called "manito-manita", it's the equivalent of "Secret Santa" . It is also very common to see "parol" (a lantern shaped like a star which signifies the star of Bethlehem) The bigger the better!! it is made of crepe paper with an oil lamp inside , its base is made out of bamboo... traditional style). The newer versions are made of capis shell or other materials like thick plastic, cellophane, etc... They come in different shapes now with an extensive colored bulb selection. (All Filipinos know how to make the traditional lantern we were forced to learn in school for home economics!! ) All streets are usually nice, bright and colorful during this long and most celebrated festive season.
On Christmas Eve, we attend "midnight mass" to meet the eve of our saviors birth. This is usually fun for me since during the mass there is a re-enactement of Joseph finding a place for Mary to give birth; this is called "panunuluyan"..
When we get home after mass, we celebrate "noche buena"! Traditionally family members enjoy a delicious dinner consisting of: queso de bola (ball of cheese covered with red parafin wax), Christmas ham, fruit salad, pastas, stuffed fish (rellenong bangus) cake (we have different traditional cakes but we also include fruit cake) and lots of chocolate! We usually open our presents on Christmas Eve, thinking that Santa Clause had stopped by to deliver the gifts while we were out at mass.
On Christmas Day, we celebrate with extended family members. We gather for lunch and early dinner. This is a special time when extended family exchange presents when they come to our house.
What I like the most is what we call "aguinaldo" meaning the elders usually give us money! And then we eat again! I miss my Filipino Christmas!