written by: Eric W. Vogt•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 10/19/2011
The Republic of the Philippines is the only country in Asia where Christians are the majority. Catholicism came from Spain in the late 1500s and while many Filipino Christmas traditions come directly from the religioius calendar and would be recognizable to all Catholics, others are home-grown.
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Christmas in the Philippines
Maligayang Pasko! That's Merry Christmas in Tagalog, the principal language of the Philippines. In this nation comprised of more than 7,000 islands, most people are Roman Catholic. They tend to take their religious holidays very seriously in the Philippines, Christmas is one they celebrate with gusto at well attended fiestas where family and extended family and friends tend to feast. A typical Christmas spread can contain more than 15 food items. Chicken, fish and rice are the mainstays of Filipino foods, and although foreign influences have introduced rich pastry products (particularly Spanish desserts and pastries), one famous celebratory food is bibingka, a pancake-like dessert made from rice flour, milk, eggs (usually duck eggs) and cheese. Brown sugar and coconut are sprinkled on top and often it is served with ginger tea on the side. Other common foods at a Christmas fiesta in the Philippines include spring rolls, noodle dishes and fruit.
The influence of the United States introduced the idea of Christmas trees, but the Philippines does not have a ready supply of evergreen trees, so people who want to imitate the US tradition buy artificial trees. Most Filipinos do not, preferring to create their own decorations. One of the most common is a parol, a five-pointed star, commemorating the Star of Bethlehem which the Wise Men followed to Christ's manger. A parol is usually made of a bamboo frame and covered with colored paper. A light source of some kind is placed inside and tassels hang from each of the five points. They tend to be family projects begun some time before the Christmas season.
Filipino children don't wait for Santa. Gifts are often bestowed -- much more realistically -- by grandparents. However, the Three Wise Men, or Three Kings, have been known to show up and leave gifts in the shoes of well behaved children. The naughty ones get a stone.