Noche Buena, 2011

Lanterns come in various shapes, but in the Philippines, a "lantern" isn't a lantern unless it's shaped like a star. Lanterns ("parol" in tagalog) are an integral part of Christmas here.

The Filipino Christmas Tradition…if there’s such a thing as the world’s ultimate festival, then this could be it. Christmas is an event celebrated like no other in the Philippines. Every Christian knows that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the little savior, but the way we celebrate it in this country, it looks like it’s everybody else’s birthday as well.

One thing that distinguishes a Filipino celebration from any other, is the abundance of food, and this is most obvious during Christmas and New Year. “Nochebuena”, is a term Filipinos borrowed from the Spanish, and it’s supposed to simply mean Christmas Eve. Other cultures with strong Spanish influence may also celebrate “nochebuena” in some shape or form, but here in the Philippines it has taken a somewhat “expanded” meaning. Here, it’s no longer just the evening of anticipating the birth of Jesus. It has now also come to mean the feast that erupts in many parts of the country the moment the clock strikes 00:01 on December 25.

The “nochebuena” table in many households also reflect the Filipino culture in some ways. The abundance of food displays the optimism that is a common trait of people in the country. No matter how dire the straits, each family will try to serve the most “special” food their money can buy, be it “foie gras” (fattened liver), or “tinapa” (smoked fish). This food is also expected to be served to anyone within arms’ reach, and even Filipino’s living abroad will happily welcome “kababayans” (fellow countrymen) they only met for the first time, just to ensure they don’t to spend a lonely Christmas away from home. The variety of food also reflects the influences on the people, and it is not uncommon to find traditional Filipino “lechon” (roast pig) sitting beside Chinese influenced “pansit” (noodles), Spanish influenced “queso de bola” (cheese shaped like a ball and covered in wax), Italian influenced pasta and American influenced fried chicken.

To those not familar with this tradition, here are a few things you might find in a Filipino Christmas dining table. These are pictures of what we served back in my hometown in Davao City, on December 25, 2011.

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If have to vote for cake of the year, this would be it. This is from Alor's, a local restaurant in Davao City.

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Mini-meat pies,another trace of western influence.

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Macaroni Salad - quick and easy to prepare, it's also a favorite for special occasions like this.

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Malagos fruit wine, proudly made in Davao.

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Se Po, Pata Tim, Camaron Rebosado, and round fruits - a mishmash of Chinese and western influences.

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Sinuglaw - proudly Filipino. Made of Kinilaw (raw fish) and Sinugbang Baboy (grilled pork).

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Many Filipino families also follow the western tradition of putting gifts under Christmas trees.

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Exchangeing gifts is a favorite Christmas Eve activity for many families.

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And, just like any place in the world, Santa visits the Philippines too.

*All photos taken at Christmas Eve of December 2011. Taken with Olympus E420 with Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.

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