A peek at Christmas in Manila

Christmas is just around the corner. In our part of the world, no Christmas decor is complete without the Belen - the Nativity scene. This would range from miniatures to life size, from the simple and humble to priceless heirlooms from several generations of Christmas past. We also have our Parol - Christmas lanterns shaped like four and six-pointed stars - to remember the bright star that the Three Wise Men from the East followed in search of the infant King of Kings. Made from indigenous materials and elaborate light circuits, some Christmas lanterns are made from a variety of materials - paper, plastic, seashells, recycled materials you name it. My personal favorite are the ones that are made of Capiz - seashells from the outside and elaborate and multicolored tiny bulbs from the inside. You plug it and watch the dazzle of lights.

In the early morning of December 16, churches and the faithful celebrate the start of Misa de Gallo - early morning masses that culminate in a grand midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It is a test of piety and determination to rise early on cold December mornings to attend 4 am mass for nine consecutive days. It is considered a blessing to be able to attend and complete the masses.
After the mass, we have bibingka and puto bungbong - native delicacies – for breakfast. These are prepared by vendors outside the churches only for the season. Perfect with hot chocolate.

There is no better proof of the Filipinos love of music than from the children and adults alike who serenade houses with Christmas carols starting on the night of December 16. These would include my six year-old neighbors in search for additional pocket money to the angelic voices of local church choirs who go out each night until Christmas Eve for the benefit of their communities. All children do their rounds of caroling and I do have my fair share of memories. I stopped doing the rounds when I realized that my singing did nothing to encourage the Christmas spirit. (To my utter disappointment, joining the choir is beyond my musical abilities)

On midnight of Christmas Eve, whole families attend Midnight Mass and go home to the grand Noche Buena - the Christmas Eve Feast. The traditional Hamon - ham and Queso de Bola are the main entries so are our favorite dishes such as Pinaupong Manok, Afritada, Relyenong Bangus, and Carbonara. Sweet desserts such as Leche Flan and Fruit salad plus Mercedez D' Brazo, my Mother's favorite cake flavor. Noche Buena is always a treat to our family's sweet tooth. Christmas day is for visiting godparents, exchanging gifts and partying.

The days after Christmas are mostly for the family. We get to attend family reunions, visit with the whole clan and get to catch up on quality family time. Christmas and New Year Holidays end at January 6th which is the Feast of the Three Kings.

Here’s wishing you all a very merry and peaceful Christmas!