A 4-month Christmas affair: Celebrating the holidays
in the Philippines

We all know everything about the 12 days of Christmas, but have you heard about celebrating 121 days of Christmas? Yes, you read it right. In the Philippines, Christmas is 4-month celebration filled with unique traditions.  

The “-ber months,” as Filipinos call it, spans from September to December, and during this whole period, it is normal to hear Christmas songs on the radio or see Christmas trees and decorations at home, in the office, and even along the streets. 

Obviously, Christmas is a big celebration for Filipinos, but just how wonderful is “the most wonderful time of the year” in a country that celebrates it the longest? Here is a list of unique ways the Filipinos celebrate the Christmas season. 


1. The Paról

You know it’s Christmas in the Philippines when you see these huge 5-point star lanterns hanging outside the house of your neighbors. Hanging up the Paról is a Filipino tradition dating back from the Spanish era. Locals would hang these lanterns up on the streets leading to the church, serving as a Bethlehem Star lighting the way for the faithful who would attend the 9-day pre-Christmas dawn Mass.  

Paróls are artworks of intricate design traditionally made of bamboo, windowpane oysters, and candles. Today, they are made with metal strings, colored fiberglass, and electronic multi-colored lights. The bigger, the brighter, the better. There are even festivals across the country where local craftsmen exhibit their finest lanterns. The Paról, perhaps, symbolizes the spirit of Filipino Christmas best. 


2. The Belén  

Next to the Paról is the Belén, which is probably the second most popular Christmas symbol in the Philippines. It is a tableau representing the birth of Christ. A Belén, which is literally the Spanish word for “Bethlehem,” usually has a replica of a baby Jesus in a manger, surrounded by Joseph, Mery, the shepherds with their flock, the three kings with their gifts, angels, and farm animals.  

Like the Paról, the Belén was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish missionaries centuries ago, but the Filipinos have embraced it and made it their own. Some Belén are small and simple, like a wooden dollhouse adorned with Christmas lights, but some big and grand, adorned with colors, flowers, and other native or even recycled materials. 


3. Dawn Mass 

Nine days before Christmas, Filipinos would wake up as early as 4:00 AM to hear the traditional dawn mass called Simbang Gabi. Traditionally, it was called Misa de Gallo or the rooster’s mass because it literally starts when roosters first crow early in the morning. Simbang Gabi starts before the sun rises every December 16 and will last until Christmas Eve.  

Filipinos fervently attend all nine masses, believing their wishes will come true if they complete all of them. Teenagers, however, are notorious for taking this opportunity to go to church with their best clothes and say hi to their neighborhood crush. Today, because of the busy nature of work, the Simbang Gabi is also held at night for people whose schedules are different.  


4. Bibingka and Puto Bumbong

All 9 dawn masses would never be complete without the two most essential Simbang Gabi food: Bibingka and Puto BumbongBibingka is a native rice cake akin to a pancake. The special Christmas bibingka often comes with cheese and salted duck eggs, topped with coconut scrapings. Puto Bumbong, meanwhile, is a purple rice cake steamed in bamboo tubes. It is usually wrapped in banana leaves and then served with margarine, coconut scrapings, and brown sugar. 

These two warm native rice delicacies would fill the stomachs of early morning mass goers, a hearty breakfast that one can eat while hanging out with family or while waiting for a jeepney or tricycle (locally called Tuktuk) going home. Today, some local restaurants serve Bibingka and Puto Bumbong all year round, but nothing beats the feeling of having them after the Simbang Gabi. 


5. Monito-Monita 

Monito Monita is the Filipino version of the Kris Kringle or Secret Santa exchange gift tradition. It usually starts in the office or at home weeks before Christmas. Names or codenames of the participants will be placed in a box, and everyone will pick their monito or monita. There is often an agreed minimum price for the gifts to be given to make sure the game is fair. 

There are different ways to do this, but it usually starts with a person giving their Monito or Monita a series of small thematic gifts every week. For example, week 1 requires everyone to give their monito “something long and hard.” It culminates during the Christmas party when participants reveal their codename and gives their monito or monita a gift in a dance off. 


Tip: You can start your Monito Monita a week before your actual Christmas party and have everyone exchanging small thematic gifts for 4 or 5 days before the grand reveal. Make your themes or categories for your Monito Monita funny and interesting with these ideas compiled by When in Manila. 


6. Christmas Parties

Pre-COVID, Filipinos would often attend multiple Christmas parties before holiday break. There would be a Christmas party at the office, another one with high school friends, another one college friends, perhaps one more with another set of friends, and finally, the grandest one with the family on Christmas eve. 

Christmas parties are also a way for Filipinos to reconnect with friends and family who they may not see around often because of work. No matter how hard the year is, Filipinos would always find the time to give gifts and sing karaoke with their friends. This is also the reason why traffic in the metro during the last weeks of November and the first weeks of December is the worst. 


Tip: Since we’re still recovering from the pandemic, you can organize a virtual Christmas party instead. Create a program with games and prizes. There are plenty of virtual games you can do over zoom. You can even ask the help of your HRBPs to mount a virtual singing, dancing, or TikTok contest because all Filipinos love talent showdowns. Before closing the program, you can hand out awards for the best-performing staff.  


7. Aguinaldo

If you have been around the Philippines during the “-ber months,” you would often hear the word Aguinaldo among your colleagues or staff. Don’t be surprised, it’s the Filipino Christmas word for money. Traditionally, Aguinaldo consistes of money or toys given by godparents (godfathers are called ninong while godmothers are ninangs) to their godchildren or inaanak. 

Throughout the years, Aguinaldo became an encompassing word for money or gift received from anyone during Christmas. In the office, employees would often tease their managers to give them some Aguinaldo after a year of hard work. Managers would often oblige by treating their staff to a restaurant, bar, or café after work.  


7. 13th Month Pay

Christmas is so special in the Philippines that there is a law that requires companies to give their employees their well-deserved 13th month pay. The law says the 13th month pay should not be less than one-twelfth of the total basic salary earned by the staff within the calendar year. Giving a Christmas bonus may be optional, but the 13th month pay is mandatory.  

Don’t worry, Filipinos would use most of that money to shop gifts for their loved ones or buy the ingredients needed for the grand Christmas eve celebration. Filipinos after all have big families and have so many groups of friends, which is probably the reason why celebrating Christmas in the Philippines need all the last four months of the year.  


8. Caroling

As early as November after Halloween, Filipino kids would usually roam around the villages in groups during the evening, bringing tambourines made of metal wires and bottle caps, as well as drums made of used milk cans, plastic, barbecue sticks and rubber, singing their best (or worst) version of traditional Filipino Christmas carols in exchange for Aguinaldo. 

These kids are grinding during the Christmas season so they can save money to buy some toys. So, don’t hesitate to give them a generous amount. Usually, PHP20 (50 cents) would make the kids happy, but you can also give extra for the group with a good singing voice. If you don’t feel like giving, just tell them, patawad, which translated to “I’m sorry.” 


9. Noche Buena

Noche Buena literally means the night of Christmas Eve in Spanish, but for Filipinos it means so much more. It is not just the climax of the 4-month Christmas celebration, it is the climax of the whole year. All the months of hard work, the trials and tribulations, the overtimes and stress, are all worth it because of this once-a-year event spent not just with the family but with the whole extended family.  

Relatives from afar would take the time and effort to fly home and celebrate Christmas with everyone. From the morning until evening, the adults would prepare the food and venue, while the kids were asked to sleep so they will have the energy at night. In the evening, the whole family would hear Mass before heading home to start the Noche Buena program. 

In typical Filipino Noche Buena, there would be a program where kids can dance or showcase their talents, a contest for both the youngsters and adults, and an exchange gift. It would end in a “salo-salo” where everybody eats the best food a Filipino household can offer. The party would last until the uncles and aunties are drunk, and all the kids are tired and sleepy. What a party, right? 


Tip: You make your Filipino staff’s Noche Buena more special by giving out Christmas baskets containing food items and ingredients they can use for their grand family celebration. Your staff and even their families would be grateful for these small tokens that show how you value their contributions to the organization. If you want to give Christmas baskets to your team, you may contact our HRBPs. 


Christmas is always a special time for Filipinos to bond with their family and friends. So, don’t be surprised if many of them would use their remaining leaves during the “-ber months.” They may have been saving these leaves for this season. The pandemic may have toned down the celebrations, but Filipinos will always find a way to do where they’re best at – celebrate and give love during the 4-month long Christmas season. 

About The Author


Patrick Quintos worked as a journalist in the Philippines for 8 years before making the transition to the outsourcing industry in 2021. His goal is to weave engaging data-driven narratives that will put a human face on different facets of an industry teeming with stories of success, inspiration, innovation, and hope.