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Decoding the Philippine Holiday Cheer

Christmas is upon us. Actually, it has been upon us for some months now, for such is life on the Philippine Isles. We simply cannot get enough of holiday cheer!

Still haven’t caught on? Here are a dozen hallmarks that will definitely clue you in:

1. The “ber” months herald the onset of Christmas carols playing on loop in malls all across the Metro. And yes, on loop DOES mean non-stop. On the list of the most annoying of the lot are Christmas songs locally mixed with popular songs. For instance “Gloooo-oooo-oooo-oooo-oria, in excelsis deo” followed brilliantly by “Teach me how to Dougie, teach me, teach me how to Dougie.”

2. The slightest “chill” in the air is the perfect excuse for fashionistas everywhere to don scarves, boots, and leather jackets. Yes, we do Fall-Winter collections in tropical Manila. Because we can. Whether we should is another thing entirely.

3. Lights are everywhere! From city streets and big retail establishments to humble shanties and corner stores, Manila gets decked in tiny, twinkling lights and parols blinking in sequence at an almost seizure-inducing frenzy.

Perhaps the biggest and brightest of them all is Ayala Land’s Festival of Lights, now on its 10th year at the Ayala Triangle Gardens. Thousands of holidaymakers flock to this venue to catch what was once listed by Conde Naste Traveler as among the best light shows in the world.

4. There are as many people out on the streets as there are twinkling lights. And they, too, move around in an almost seizure-inducing frenzy. If this is not your scene, stay away from malls… or from anywhere outside your home completely.

5. Young urchins walk the streets with makeshift instruments ranging from tambourines made of hammered down bottle caps, strung together through holes in the center; empty jugs of bottled water as drums; a pair of stones for castanets; empty tin cans filled with dry mung beans for maracas; singing carols with makeshift words in delightful Pinoy-accented English “Mauricio, a meri kreeeesmas! Mauricio, a meri kreeeesmas!”

Yes, they love Mauricio, and will sing for your loose change in his honor. Lest you scratch your head in bewilderment, Mauricio is actually their phonetic understanding of “We wish you.”

Now you know.

6. It takes you twice as long to get to a place that’s half as far. (Heavier) Traffic is the new world order. We do not like this world order, not one bit. Thankfully, there are point-to-point buses to the rescue (at least you’re not behind the wheel), and foot power is always another option (perfect way to take in the pretty lights and street decor.)

7. The smell of bibingka and puto bungbung lingers in the air, and chestnuts roast on an open fire at Manong’s corner stand. Sticky rice cakes and other treats are always a welcome Christmas tradition.

8. Nativity scenes, better known as belens, are positioned on rooftops, sidewalks, front doorsteps, and mantle tops, in homage to the first Christmas Night. Never mind that biblical scholars will tell you that there were most likely way more than three wise men who came to visit; who are scholars to ruin our well-loved nativity scenes, anyway?

9. Office employees go on a mandatory diet, skipping lunch break to practice for their Christmas party dance routines anywhere they possibly can. Sometimes, you might even catch them busting out the choreographed moves behind the check-out counter where they work, in parking lots, and practically, wherever space permits. Now that’s team spirit and Yuletide cheer for you.

10. Street hawkers peddle an assortment of Christmas oddities, from snowflake-shaped glasses and plastic baubles to Santa hats and Santa-meets-the-Easter-Bunny furry blinking rabbit ears. Flea markets and makeshift bazaars capitalize on the spirit of gift-giving, selling a variety of merchandise, from dry goods to food items and everything in between. Shopping in a tiangge (street market) wonderland!

11. You are invited to Christmas dinner at your wife’s aunt’s cousin twice removed. The next day, you are invited to Christmas lunch at your wife’s aunt’s cousin thrice removed. The list of invites goes on, the feasting is endless.

12. The post-bonus holiday mantra: “Eat, drink, sing (Karaoke, of course!), repeat!” Warm up your vocal chords and join in on the fun. You won’t regret it!

Yes, as far as things that are “more fun” go, Christmas in the Philippines is definitely in that category. Maligayang Pasko sa ating lahat!