Here's why the Philippines celebrates the world's longest Christmas season

·Contributor
·4 min read
FILE PHOTO: Buyers stand in front of lanterns known locally as 'parol' on display along a street in Manila on December 23, 2013. (Source: AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS)
FILE PHOTO: Buyers stand in front of lanterns known locally as 'parol' on display along a street in Manila on December 23, 2013. (Source: AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS)

“Merry Christmas!”

This is how Filipinos greet each other on September 1st even if it’s still over three and a half months before December 25. 

The Philippines, one of six predominantly Christian countries in Asia, boasts the earliest and longest Christmas season in the world.

Every year, Filipinos all around the world mark September 1, as the start of the Christmas countdown. The "Ber months" countdown, which runs from September to December, is one of the most important traditions that sets apart Christmas in the Philippines from celebrations in the rest of the world.

Asked how the phenomenon of the “Ber months” first began, Clifford Sorita, a sociologist and former seminarian with the order of the Society of the Divine Word told NPR that it grew organically, without any precise timeline. Sorita, however, said that the frenzy surrounding the "Ber months" represents "a psychological time clock for most Filipinos to prepare" a jammed Christmas calendar with family and friends, especially returning OFWs.

September 1 usually starts with radio and TV stations playing Christmas music. (Cue Jose Mari Chan and the endless memes.)

Stalls selling Christmas decorations and fireworks begin to line the street. In some households, Christmas decorations are already hung up this early. The most common of which is the “parol,” a star-shaped Christmas lantern made of wood and paper, or metal and a shell called capiz usually used for window panes.

FILE PHOTO: A lantern-maker tests Christmas decorations at his stall in Manila, December 23, 2006. (Source: REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo)
FILE PHOTO: A lantern-maker tests Christmas decorations at his stall in Manila, December 23, 2006. (Source: REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo)

Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray’s national costume was inspired by these Filipino holiday staples which light up the dark with beautiful colors and patterns.

FILE PHOTO: Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines 2018 poses on stage during the 2018 Miss Universe national costume presentation in Chonburi province on December 10, 2018. (Source: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)
FILE PHOTO: Catriona Gray, Miss Philippines 2018 poses on stage during the 2018 Miss Universe national costume presentation in Chonburi province on December 10, 2018. (Source: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)

Disney UK even created a heart-warming advert on the “parol” featuring the story of a Filipina grandmother.

Another Christmas tradition that starts early for Filipinos is Christmas caroling. Similar to trick-or-treating, Filipino children go from house-to-house to sing Christmas carols in exchange for some coins, otherwise known as “aguinaldo.” They usually sing with make-shift instruments like tambourines made from metal bottlecaps, maracas made out of bottles filled with coins, and drums from empty cannisters. 

Before the pandemic, children usually started in September.

FILE PHOTO: Children sing Christmas carols near lanterns on display, locally known as
FILE PHOTO: Children sing Christmas carols near lanterns on display, locally known as "parol" along a street in Manila, December 15, 2011 (Source: AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE)

Some establishments also offer early Christmas sales and discounts. Filipino shoppers usually stock up on groceries for their Christmas midnight feast Noche Buena months before to avoid the Christmas rush. Some even start their gift shopping as early as September.

FILE PHOTO: Last minute Christmas shopping (Source: Getty Creative)
FILE PHOTO: Last minute Christmas shopping (Source: Getty Creative)

Unlike Christmas in most Western countries, the Filipino Christmas is more centered on Jesus than on Santa Claus. In fact, they have Misa de Gallo, a nine day-long series of masses that commence on Christmas eve. A Christmas nativity scene decoration is also common in Filipino households.

FILE PHOTO: A girl is silhouetted as she views a nativity scene known locally as
FILE PHOTO: A girl is silhouetted as she views a nativity scene known locally as "Belen" displayed outside the Philippine Stock Exchange in Manila's Makati financial district December 21, 2010. (Source: REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo)

Known for their resilience, Filipinos have celebrated Christmas amid storms and even the pandemic. Most typhoons hit the country during the monsoon season from October to March of the next year. In 2020, during our first Christmas with a pandemic, three destructive typhoons hit the country in a span of three weeks, but Filipinos did not lose hope and still managed to celebrate the season in simple ways.

FILE PHOTO: A giant Christmas lantern is seen in a devastated area of Magallanes town, Tacloban city, central Philippines December 22, 2013. Super typhoon Haiyan reduced almost everything in its path to rubble when it swept ashore in the central Philippines on November 8, killing at least 6,069 people, leaving 1,779 missing and 4 million either homeless or with damaged homes. (Source: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)
FILE PHOTO: A giant Christmas lantern is seen in a devastated area of Magallanes town, Tacloban city, central Philippines December 22, 2013. Super typhoon Haiyan reduced almost everything in its path to rubble when it swept ashore in the central Philippines on November 8, killing at least 6,069 people, leaving 1,779 missing and 4 million either homeless or with damaged homes. (Source: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

Ana Catalina Paje is a development journalist passionate about grassroots communication geared towards genuine social change. She also writes about showbiz, lifestyle, and all things Pinoy pride. The views expressed are her own.

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