As it is the season to be jolly, I'd like to share that Filipinos probably have the longest Christmas celebrations in all cultures...and one occassion that takes precedence over all others. As early as November, you already have shops decorating their windows and showcases in Christmas themes and usually Christmassy music can be heard over radios and malls.
Christmas in the Philippines begins on the 16th of December where people attend dawn mass for 9 days until the 24th. Young people are encouraged by their parents to wake up and attend mass to prepare themselves for the birthday of Jesus. Aside from the chance of sleeping in church and upsetting your local parish priest, you get to see most people still in pajamas some of whom haven't even brushed their hair, teeth, much less washed their faces of have taken a bath!
It is a joy to see people as sleepy as you in the pews of a still cold church. You exchange smiles of solidarity - perhaps you both have not brushed your teeth! There are giggles as some elder members jolt up in the middle of the homily (priest preaching) from an obvious sleep of snores start getting louder from an inconspicious dozzer!
After mass, people eat rice cakes and native sweets outside the church with hot chocolate or coffee to keep them warm (and awake!). You feel a different air of the Yule season. The weather is cooler, the air is crisp and you are - for that single instant - thankful for God's blessings.
On Christmas Eve, Filipinos attend midnight mass (talk about all these unGodly service hours!) and after that feast to a media noche of ham, lechon (roast pork) and other fancy party fare. Even the poorest of familes would at least have chicken or pancit (noodles) on the table to celebrate the coming of Jesus and no matter how poor, a Christmas tree or a decorated parol (lantern) would hang on a Filipino home to signify the occassion.
On Christmas Day we visit relatives and friends, give presents and eat, again! Children sing Christmas carols and visit houses where they receive either sweets or money for their efforts. This is a good time of the year to look up godparents who must (by tradition) give you presents in cash or kind.
A few days rest from all the partying and it's the New Year so the feasting continues. Schools and businesses are usually closed from the 24th of December till the 1st of January to allow people to go home to the provinces and be with their families.
Christmas officially ends on the Feast of the Three Kings where people give presents. Three Kings used to be on the 6th of January but in recent years the chruch decreed it to be the first Sunday of January.
having spent Christmas for the past 10 years now here in the middle of the desert, I miss the Christmas that I grew up with in the Philippines. The people I love spending Christmas with are scattered all over the world. I hope that with them, they bring and share the spirit of Pinoy Christmas we all miss so much.
Happy, happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous new year!