With Christmas Day fast upon us, you may be looking for unique ways to honor Christ’s birth — or you may just love hearing how other cultures celebrate such an important time in the Church calendar.
So take a look at some of these beautiful traditions from southeast Asia, where the faithful take great joy in preparing for Christ’s birth as early as September, culminating in a wonderful family feast on Christmas Eve.
Simbang Gabi, or “Night Mass,” is a Mass held at dawn on the nine days leading up to Christmas. Catholics will attend Mass early in the morning — even as early as 4 a.m. — and go off to work with a renewed spirit.
It’s a special treat for the faithful, waking up extra early and feeling the exaltation of the early morning air as they head off to join other parishioners at this most sacred time of year.
Christmas edible delights
Those attending Simbang Gabi will likely find some festive food being served outside church — from a savory rice-cake called Bibingka that is cooked in a clay pot over a charcoal fire, served with a sprinkling of cheese and a slated egg, to Puto Bumbong, a sweeter rice cake that is cooked in a bamboo tube and topped with muscovado sugar and coconut shavings.
To wash this all down, Filipinos might have a cup of hot chocolate, or Tsokolate.
A star-shaped lantern
You might be familiar with the beautiful star-shaped lantern called a Parol. Reminiscent of the Star of Bethlehem, it symbolizes hope and can be found outside many Filipino homes. The faithful will sometimes make their own out of recycled bottles or other materials, but each lantern shines brightly as they await Christ’s birth.
Other more common decorations can also be found on the archipelago. From Christmas trees and poinsettias, to the Belen, the Filipino version of the Nativity scene.
A little extra pay
What helps bring a little more festive cheer is the 13th month salary and/or bonus. Employers spread the salary over a 13-month period, with December being the bumper month when two months’ salary is received!
Early Christmas carols
As the preparation for Christmas starts a lot earlier in the Philippines, you’ll often hear Christmas carols in the month of November. Kids will go in groups from home to home singing carols in exchange for Pamasko, or Christmas token.
They’ll sing traditional songs from the Philippines, as well as popular Western songs, hopefully in exchange of a coin or two.
A Christmas feast
Noche Buena is a meaningful family occasion on Christmas Eve where the dining table is crammed with food for a beautiful feast to celebrate Christ’s birth.