Sunday, September 6, 2009

Christmas in the Philippines

The Philippines holds the distinction of having the longest observance of Christmas than any other country in the world. The official start of their Christmas season begins with the "ber" months -- SeptemBER, OctoBER, NovemBER, etc.

By September 1, it isn't a bit uncommon to see some of the first decorations in the malls and hear the holiday music. And it becomes quite common to see the count-down of shopping days left until Christmas on the morning TV news shows such as "Umagang kay ganda," "Unang Hirit" and others. In fact, many radio and TV stations begin playing Christmas tunes as their various personalities announce the "countdown-day" as they open their show or sign on each morning.

The Philippine Christmas tree is put up on display in the homes as early as November 2 --the
day following All Saints Day -- and they are left up as late as mid-January.

Instead of the Evergreen or pine tree commonly used in the USA, most Filipinos erect and decorate a Magit tree for Christmas. This is a small mangrove-type tree mostly associated with the ground-cover among the palms. Others use the Bakau -- a bushy little scrub-tree having numerous small branches that grows abundantly in swampy areas. Either of these trees are usually obtained as early as the first week of September in anticipation of the holiday to provide time for it to dry out. Then around November 2 or 3 they put the tree up in a big container, such as a Nido milk powder can or something similar, fill it with small stones or sand to keep the tree upright, and place it all in the corner of their house in a front room. They then wrap each little branch with green, white, or red crinkled tissue paper -- which they call Japanese paper but what Americans refer to as crepe paper -- and decorate the tree in more detail with handmade ornaments made of paper, foil, candies, and/or lollipops. Sometimes they will whip detergent soap into a white foam and spread that onto the branches of the tree that, upon drying looks like snow-covered branches.
If afforable, many Filipinos are now wrapping small lights around the branches of their tree & using store-bought ornaments to complete their decorating. Christmas lights and star-shaped lanterns, called parols, are also often arranged in all the windows of homes and stores during the holiday.
Under Philippine law, by December 20 at the latest, all employers are required to provide a Christmas bonus equivalent to one month's salary to every employee's pay. The shopping centers & malls begin holding all-night holiday sales soon afterwards through the 24th. Nine days of pre-dawn Catholic masses begin on December 16 through December 24, during which nearly all major commerce comes to a complete stand-still as many companies close for the holidays, including many big businesses and manufacturing plants. In addition, ALL mail delivery stops between December 15 to January 2. As a result, many working people use this as their only vacation opportunity and go off to visit family and friends in other localities.