“Whenever I see girls and boys selling lanterns on the street…”
Sound familiar? I bet you’ve already heard the line at least once this month.
Christmas in the Philippines is a treasured event, and boy do we like it early. It’s as if the world transforms at the stroke of midnight on September 1st — suddenly there’s red and green everywhere, the lights are warmer, the air is cooler, and everyone’s spirits become jollier than ever.
But how did this all begin? Why does the Philippines have the world’s longest Christmas season?
Let’s try to travel back a few centuries earlier. Christmas made its debut in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era (1565-1898) when Spain staked their flag on las Islas Filipinas for God, gold, and glory. Legends say however that the first Christmas mass on the islands was actually held even earlier: sometime in the 1300s, they say, by a long-bearded Italian priest named Odorico da Pordenone.
(Odoric of Pordenone in China, 1930)
Cool story, but the event itself is quite unlikely — though it’s true that he was sent to evangelize “the Eastern lands”, his memoirs revealed that the guy had never even stepped foot on Philippine soil (Yuvallos, 2020).
Nevertheless, what we do know for sure is that the conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi did report a mass celebrating the Nativity on the 24th of December 1565, which hailed the first of many Filipino Christmas masses in the generations to come (“Origins”, 2017). It was from here that Filipinos — the majority of whom are still Catholics today — got the tradition of marking the days of Christmas using masses. From the first advent mass at around late November to Simbang Gabi (Eng. Night Masses) on December 16 to 24 down to the Feast of the Epiphany in January, it has been said that it’s not a Filipino Christmas without a Catholic mass (Rañoa, n.d.).
(De Guzman, 2015)
But wouldn’t that mean Filipinos would start Christmas in November instead of September? Why does the Filipino Christmas begin when the ‘ber’ months do? It’s psychology, sociologists say. September 16 marks 100 days before Christmas, and it is probably the only time of the year when extended Filipino families are all together. Thus, Pinoys would want to ensure the best preparation for an occasion as highly important as this (Handog, 2017). De La Salle University Professor Ed Timbungco explains:
“By knowing exactly how much time we have remaining to complete a task, instead of stressing about it, we will be able to better allocate our time. In fact, a 100-day countdown also acts as a secondary motivator and reinforces us Filipinos to complete our Christmas tasks before the big day.”
Perhaps that makes sense, but truthfully speaking there’s no clear-cut reason. Historians say it’s tradition. Sociologists say it’s culture. Corporate folks say it’s for profit, and event planners say it’s for preparation. Even priests say it’s because some people long ago had confused the Nativity of Christ with that of his mother Mary (September 8). The average Pinoy just shrugs his shoulders and says,
“Well, it’s when you start hearing Mariah Carey, Michael Bublé, and Jose Mari Chan’s Christmas songs!”
Written by Sophia N. (Grade 11); Feature Image by Naoki K. (Grade 11)
The views expressed in this article represent the personal views of the author and should not be taken to represent the views of Dragon’s Print and Cebu International School.
Brown, S. (2012, December 5). The Philippines shows the world how to celebrate Christmas. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/05/world/asia/irpt-xmas-philippines-traditions/index.html
de Guzman, J. (2015, December 19). A Filipino Simbang Gabi [Photograph]. https://www.jayceedeguzman.com/life/why-do-catholics-have-a-simbang-gabi-dawn-mass-for-christmas/
Handog, M. C. (2017, September 26). Why does Christmas in the Philippines start in September? Rappler. https://www.rappler.com/brandrap/lifestyle-and-entertainment/shakeys-ber-bundle-christmas
Ocampo, A. R. (2012, December 26). The first Christmas tree in the Philippines. INQUIRER.Net. https://opinion.inquirer.net/43441/the-first-christmas-tree-in-the-philippines
Odoric of Pordenone in China. (1930). [Illustration]. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Odoryk_z_Pordenone_1.jpg
Origins of Pinoy Christmas traditions. (2017). INQUIRER.Net. https://pop.inquirer.net/christmas2017
Rañoa, A. B. (n.d.). The origin of Simbang Gabi. OFM PROVINCE OF SAN PEDRO BAUTISTA. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://ofmphil.com/news/simbang-gabi-popular-devotions
Yuvallos, A. (2020, December 23). The legend of the “first” Filipino Christmas. NOLISOLI. https://nolisoli.ph/91214/first-christmas-in-the-philippines-fr-odorico-ayuvallos-20201224/#:%7E:text=Ultimately%2C%20the%20National%20Historical%20Institute,held%20on%20March%2031%2C%201521
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