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Words To Know To Rejoice In The Christmas Season In The Philippines

Christmas all season long

If you’ve ever worried about Christmas creep, you might be surprised to find out there’s at least one place in the world that doesn’t mind celebrating a very early Christmas—in fact, it revels in it!

It’s really quite possible that no one celebrates as long of a Christmas season as the Philippines. The majority of people who call this country of islands home are Catholic, and the celebration takes seasonal creep to a level far beyond our expectations.

In the Philippines, Christmas extends through what’s known as the “Ber” months, meaning every month that ends in those three letters, from September to December. It’s not uncommon to see Halloween decorations in the store next to Christmas trees. Celebrations don’t stop until the end of Epiphany on January 6.

Observances largely stem from when the Philippines was a Spanish colony from 1521 to 1898. This is true in the Catholic traditions and also in the language of the season. Many of the most common words derive from Spanish. Others are part of the Tagalog language, the principal language of the Philippines.

From cherished meals to special gifts, these are the words you need to know to understand Christmastime in the Philippines.

lechon

lechon

Food is a big part of Christmas in the Philippines. Specifically lechon. Lechon is, at its most basic, roast pig, and the word originally comes from Spanish. The pig has its belly stuffed with herbs, alliums, and spices, and the skin is rubbed down with coconut water, soy sauce, soda, or milk to get that extra crisp. From there, it’s just a waiting game while the pig is put on a spit and slowly turned for hours over hot coals. Walk through a town, and you might come across lechon up to 45 pounds being spun on rows of bamboo spits.

The city of Cebu is the most famous for its lechon, though La Loma in Manila is well-known for lechon too and regional variations abound. For many families across the archipelago, lechon is a centerpiece on the Christmas table. Beyond Spain and the Philippines, lechon (or lechón) is popular in Cuba and Puerto Rico, where it’s also claimed as a dish of national importance.

Lechon is often served whole, with plates getting some of the succulent meat from the inside as well as pieces of the extremely crispy red skin.

regalo

regalo

In the Philippines, regalo means the same thing as it does in Spanish-speaking countries: gift. The word originally comes from Middle French regale, which means “feast.” Modern meanings trend toward “gift” or “bonus.” Gifts are clearly an important part of Christmas in the Philippines and elsewhere.

 

Here’s a gift for you: learn some of the Spanish words that have come straight into English.

bisita 

bisita 

Whether you’re in charge of the Christmas party or you’re simply attending one, you’re familiar with handling bisitas. The word means “guest,” and comes from the Spanish visita, which means “to visit.” It’s not the only word for “visitors” that people in the Philippines use. Panauhin is the Tagalog word for “guest,” while the word for “visit” is dalaw.

Noche buena

Noche buena

Noche Buena translates literally from Spanish to “a good night.” When it comes to Christmas in the Philippines, the phrase refers to Christmas Eve—a night for feasting, partying, and general merriment right after midnight mass. Many kids open gifts on Noche Buena, with the chance of some more gifts from Santa the following morning.

The tradition started when the Philippines was a Spanish colony. People would go to nighttime mass and return for food. This meal in off hours isn’t always when the lechon is broken out, however. People in the Philippines often eat ham and cheese, fruit cake, hot chocolate, bread, and fruits for Noche Buena.

Sa Araw Ng Pasko 

Sa Araw Ng Pasko 

Christmas songs have a way of tugging at the heartstrings. Sa Araw Ng Pasko, which translates to “On Christmas Day,” is a song about returning home for the holidays. This has special meaning in the country, since millions of Filipinos work abroad, and Christmas is the one time of year for reunions. The lyrics talk about wishing for happiness for loved ones and the expectations of coming home. Sa Araw Ng Pasko is decades old but remains popular during the “Ber” months as part of the homecoming celebration.

Misa de Gallo

Misa de Gallo

Misa means “Mass,” while de gallo means “of the rooster.” Together, they make “Rooster’s Mass.” This term is used to refer to a midnight mass on Christmas Eve in Spanish-speaking countries all over Latin America and the Philippines. This term is sometimes used interchangeably to refer to Simbang Gabi (read on) in the Philippines.

 

What does Noel mean when it comes to Christmas? Read about it here.

Simbang Gabi

Simbang Gabi

Simbang Gabi means “night Mass” in Tagalog, and that’s exactly what this Christmastime phrase refers to. Simbang Gabi is a series of nine masses from December 16 through the 24 before dawn. This is called the novena (as in nine) in Spain and other countries with large Catholic populations.

Mass was typically held at night in Spain. It was moved to the early morning hours during the colonial period in the Philippines to accommodate farmers during the harvest season, and the tradition stuck. Today, people in both urban and rural areas attend the pre-dawn service (though many churches offer a night service as well for those who don’t want to get up for a 4 a.m. start time).

For the effort, there’s a common belief that your Christmas wish will be granted if you make it to all nine night Masses. Also, after the early service, there are baked rice cakes (bibingka) and steamed rice cakes (puto-bumbong) to enjoy. Seasonal drinks like salabat (ginger tea) are also common.

Maligayang Pasko

Maligayang Pasko

Maligayang Pasko translates literally to “merry Christmas.” As you might imagine, it’s a common thing to hear when walking around one of the countries most dedicated to celebrating Christmas in full. Other variations include magpaskó (“to celebrate Christmas”).

Pasko means “Christmas” and comes from the Spanish Pascua, which itself comes from Hebrew’s pesah, which means “Passover.” Over time the word came to reference Christian holidays as well, like Easter, Christmas, and Epiphany. Pascua de Navidad is the most specific way to use the term related to Christmas, but in the Philippines Pasko is enough.

parol

parol

Among the Christmas trees and Santa depictions you’ll find parol as the most prominent holiday decoration in the Philippines. It’s essentially a star, or star-like shape, that can be small enough to fit in your hand or 20 feet tall and paraded through the streets. These large ones are often made throughout the year because they take so long to put together. Parol are usually super colorful with intricate designs made of glass, metal, plastic, paper, and other materials, and are lit up in some fashion. The name comes from this last aspect: parol comes from the Spanish word for “lantern,” farol.

Parol are meant to symbolize the star of Bethlehem.

One of the most notable cities for parol is San Fernando. Here, lantern processions for Our Lady of La Naval (the Virgin Mary) have been held since the 1700s. Elsewhere, they were once hung from windows to light the way to Simbang Gabi. Today, they’re still an important Christmastime symbol. The parol are also extremely intricate and a long way off from the rice paper and bamboo parol of yore.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Read about some popular traditions here.

aguinaldo

aguinaldo

There are many gifts given during the season, but aguinaldos are special. The word translates from Spanish to “bonus.” In the Philippines, aguinaldos are typically given by aunts, uncles, grandparents, and godparents. The latter are often the biggest givers.

One tradition is for kids to line up and pay respects to their elders through a ritual called pagmamano, which involves taking the elder’s hand and touching it to their forehead.

Another way to receive aguinaldos is to go caroling in exchange for coins.

Monito-Monita

Monito-Monita

People who work in an office in the US are probably familiar with monito-monita, even if they haven’t heard the name. It’s essentially secret Santa, with similar rules of drawing names to see who you’re going to give gifts to. It’s as common a holiday game in the Philippines as it is in the States.

There are a few variations that some people follow that makes monito-monita different: sometimes people give a small gift every day or every week according to a theme like something soft, something sweet, or something round. On the day of the Christmas party, the identities of the gift givers are revealed.

pamasko

pamasko

The Spanish-derived regalo may serve as the standard word for “gift,” but pamasko gets more specific. Pamasko is the word for a “Christmas gift” rather than a “gift” in general.

🇵🇭Keep the cultural festivities going by learning some of the words from the Philippines that have become a part of the English language.

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