It is said that in the Philippines Christmas starts in October when the shopping malls put up the Christmas decorations and the mood seems to last until February at around Candlemas or even after.
If one has been in the Philippines around Christmas time, one would have noticed that the decorations appear to be everywhere you can possibly put them and the most dominant among them is the paról, a star-shaped lantern. These come in varied patterns and sizes and many of them are things of some beauty.
Paról parades are held in various places such as in the province of Albay, south of Manila (where can be found the famed Mayon volcano) in the municipality of Polangui in mid December. (Readers may want to turn the volume down for this youtube)
Perhaps the most loved preparation for Christmas is Simbang Gabi or Misa de Gallo (the “Cockcrow Mass”). This is a novena of Masses from 16 December until 24 December held around 4 a.m., that is, before dawn! In some areas brass bands would go around the town in the past to wake up the populace, urging them to proceed to the church. Electronic means do the same job mostly these days. Church bells will often be rung an hour beforehand also.
It is said that these Masses are offered in the morning before dawn uniquely in the Philippines and that the people of the Philippines were given special permission for this by the Pope (I have not been able to confirm this “special permission”). The tradition is that these Masses were in the darkness of early morning, rather than in the evening, so that the farmers could go and toil in their fields straight after Mass, as the sun rose and before it became too hot in the open.
Here is Simbang Gabi, again from the province of Albay, Legazpi City to be precise. Plenty of treats to breakfast on after Holy Communion later, in the square outside the churchyard! (Again please to turn down the volume in the video. It was also probably inevitable that Santa Claus would make an appearance after 50 years of American rule.)
The celebrations don’t stop at Christmas. Epiphanytide is the time for many more local festivals, such as that of the Black Nazarene and those connected with el Santo Niño, the Holy Child.
After a terrible year of earthquakes and typhoons, may the people of the Philippines again find deep joy in their much loved feast of Christmas.