Santa on a beach

Tale of Two Traditions: How to Celebrate Filipino Christmas on a hot summer day in Australia

How do you imagine your perfect Christmas?

Do you dream of a white Christmas?

Just like Bing Crosby and Michael Buble crooned in the song?

I used to dream about it but then moving in the Great Southern Land, where the season runs opposite the northern hemisphere, I could not help but feel alienated when the hymn of carols and smell of fruit cakes are in the hot summer air.

Christmas in the Philippines may not be white but the weather is at its finest.  It is agreeing to the celebration as it starts to cool down. Unlike any other countries around the globe, Christmas in the Philippines is celebrated well ahead than everyone else.  People are rejoicing and no one is complaining.

On the other side, Christmas in Australia is a tad different.

Celebration moods, hymns of carols, and flashing decors are mostly apparent closer to the big day. The weather starts to get hot and dry as it is the start of the summer season. Christmas shutdowns of most companies happen during this period. People are excited for their organized lengthy holiday vacation, like a long drive in the country side, across interstates or a quick travel by plane.

DIFFERENCES:

Weather

Due to the geographical location of both countries, white Christmas is unlikely. December is the cool and dry season in the Philippines while it is hot and dry summer season in Australia. Philippine temperature ranges from 23 to 30+ degrees Celcius in December.

Boat on the Philippine shore
Philippine's December temperature ranges from 23 to 30+ deg Celsius

Australian temperature can be as crazy from 20 to 40+ degrees Celsius.  It’s not impossible to have this range of temperature within a day. Believe me, I’ve experienced it first hand.  And it is indeed crazy!

December is also the start of bushfire season. Due to the hot weather on December 25 – Christmas day, the event of Christmas in July has become popular to give way for a much more suitable white Christmas feels especially for kids who are enjoying school holidays mid of the year.  July is the mid winter season in Australia when the high places and the mountain areas experience snow.

Kangaroo crossing the road
Australia's December temperature ranges from 20 to 40+ degrees Celsius. It is the start of bushfire season.

 

Length of Celebration

There is no other Christmas celebration like the Philippines. It starts from first of September and ends on the feast of 3 kings (Epiphany). That’s a 4 massive long month celebration. 

In Australia, most people start to display Christmas decors closer to December.   I would say around November, you will start to feel the festive moods in the malls and in the cities where people tend to gather.

Reason for Celebration

According to statistics, 92.4% of Filipinos are identified as Christians and 86% of it are Roman Catholics.

That explains why Philippines, a traditionally Christian country and having inherited the Christmas traditions from the Spanish colonization era, celebrate Christmas in a more religious way.

The nativity of Jesus, birth of Christ.

The main reason for Christmas celebration is the birth of Jesus Christ. The main symbol of Christmas in the Philippines is Belen, short for Bethlehem, the scene of nativity or manger of Jesus.

Australia, as a multi-cultural country and a continent at the same time, celebrates Christmas in a more social and commercial way. 

It is a home to 270 cultures and ancestries, with 52% of the population are Christians and 30% are “nones” (no religion). Having such diversity, the reason of the celebration has a great mix of cultural, spiritual, and societal significance.

 

Christmas party drinks
Christmas party drinks and socializing

 

Gift Giving and Symbolic Gesture

Monito-Monita is the Filipino version of Kris Kringle or Secret SantaIt is a way of exchanging gifts by drawing lots from pool of names or numbers and preparing gifts based on agreed theme or value. It could be done on succeeding days before Christmas or done on Christmas Eve or Christmas day itself.  It is a common Christmas tradition that is practiced between families, friends, and workmates.

“Mano po Ninong, Mano po Ninang.” These are very common phrases you will hear during Christmas in the Philippines from young people to their seniors.

Mano or Pagmamano  came from a Spanish word “Mano” which means hand. It is a traditional Filipino gesture to show respect to the elderlies by kissing the latter’s hand or pressing one’s forehead to the back of the elderly’s extended hand. This is a common practice every day but most specially on Christmas day when kids’ honour their godparents – Ninong means godfather and Ninang means godmother. 

mano
"Mano" is a traditional Filipino gesture of young people to show respect to their elderlies

In return, godparents give them aguinaldo (gift money) or special gifts as a sign of their kindness and blessing to their godchildren. 

Gift-giving is also a common charitable practice in the Philippines from well-to-do individuals or organizations who want to share their blessings to underprivileged people in orphanages and other impoverished communities.

Christmas gift-giving is also a traditional thing in Australia. Instead of giving it on Christmas Eve, gifts are generally given and exchanged on Christmas day. It is not common to give money to kids as Christmas gifts. So I would say, godparents here in Australia are a little bit more spared when it comes to giving gifts or money to their godchildren.

Events

There are several special events during Christmas in both countries.

The Philippines’ events with its spiritual sense of celebration are more related to Christian practices like Simbang Gabi (Dawn Mass), Misa de Gallo, and Panunuluyan

Simbang Gabi is the novena (Latin word which means 9) dawn masses observed by most Filipinos gearing up for Christmas day. Misa de Gallo (Spanish word for Rooster’s Mass) is the special mass celebrated on Christmas Eve, often a midnight mass or prior. Panunuluyan is the reenactment of the difficult search of Joseph and Mary for the birthing place of Jesus.

Christmas parties and functions at work are exciting, fun, and interactive with games, raffles, and prizes organized to get everyone participated in the happenings.

Whereas in Australia, the most popular event every Christmas is the Carols by Candlelight, an annual fund raising event, held on Christmas Eve in Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl. It is an outdoor gathering event involving people singing carols by candlelight and enjoying performances of local and international celebrities accompanied by a symphony orchestra. This tradition has been a popular event not just in Australia but around the world supporting kids who are blind or have low vision, and their families, to live the life they choose.

There are Christmas parties and functions at work too. They can be as casual (over barbeque and drinks) or as formal (in fancy hotels or restaurants), dependent on the budget and theme of the celebration.

Important sports events are held on Dec 26 (Boxing Day), the Boxing Day test match which is a cricket game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race which is a race that covers a distance of 630 nautical miles between Sydney Harbour and Hobart on the island of Tasmania.

Traditional Christmas Foods

 

Traditional Filipino Christmas Foods

Filipinos always enjoy a shared feast of foods. Some traditional Filipino Christmas foods include:

Savoury

Lechon baboy or lechon manok 

Queso de bola

Roasted chestnuts (castanas)

Macaroni Salad

Hamon
Barbeque on a stick
Filipino Sweet Barbeque
Filipino sweet spaghetti
Seafood paella

Sweets

Bibingka
Bibingka
Puto bumbong
Fruit salad
Halayang Ube
Halayang ube
Leche flan
Bibingka malagkit

 

Filipino Boodle Fight

This is a unique Filipino way of sharing and eating meals together using bare hands.  

This is a common way of sharing meals among families and friends not just on Christmas day but every single day. Variety of foods (often dry) are laid out on tables on layers of banana leaves. You can either use a food glove or use your clean bare hand to fully enjoy this delicious boodle fight meal.

Solo boodle fight

 Traditional Australian Christmas Foods

Australians love festive gatherings over great delicious foods too. Some of their popular specialties for Christmas are:

Savoury

Turkey
Shaved ham and meats
Australian barbeque
Barbie (short for barbeque)
Prawns and oysters
Seafoods (prawns and oysters)

Sweets

Christmas (fruit) cake

White Christmas

Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding
Passionfruit pavlova
Pavlova
Strawberry trifle
Trifle
Fruit mince pies
Fruit mince pie

 

SIMILARITIES

If there are differences between these two cultures, they too have some similar traditions.

Decorations and Symbols

Christmas decorations on both cultures are very much shared symbols of Christmas celebrations. Christmas trees, lights, and ornaments are beautifully displayed on most houses, streets, and busy places.  Other distinct Australian Christmas symbols include advent calendars and Christmas crackers.

Venice Grand Canal in Taguig, Philippines
Venice Grand Canal in Taguig, Manila, Philippines
Advent calendar
Advent calendar
Christmas crackers

 

Activities

The real focus of both traditions is on families and loved ones coming together. Family reunions and get together with friends are organized left, right, and centre over lavish and delish traditional and special Christmas meals.

Philippine family reunion
Filipino family reunion

HOW TO CELEBRATE FILIPINO CHRISTMAS IN AUSTRALIA

Filipino culture strongly values family and this is very evident on a special day like Christmas. 

We may be home away from home but we still manage to celebrate a Christmas in the most Filipino way we can.

Simbang Gabi” and “Misa de Gallo

There are Catholic churches that hold “simbang gabi” or novena dawn masses here too, either at night or early morning. Fellowship gathering follows after the mass.  “Misa de Gallo” is the mass celebrated on Christmas Eve and is often the busiest service of all masses.

Christmas Eve

Filipinos in Australia observe Christmas Eve pretty much the same as how we celebrate it back home.  Luscious meals (mix of Filipino, Australian and western type of cuisines) are prepared all throughout the day, staying up late until after midnight, and giving and exchanging gifts are the highlights leading up to the big day. Not to mention, it is the day when Santa Claus visits every kid’s house to give his most-awaited present. And kids open their Santa gifts on Christmas day.

Christmas Day

Christmas day is clearly a public holiday. Therefore, most parts of the city and other places in Australia are shut down or have limited operations. These include supermarkets, retail shops, pharmacies, public transports and other services. The most sensible thing to do on Christmas day is a get-together with families, friends, and relatives, which Filipinos are well accustomed to.  

As it is hot summer season, lots of Australians love spending their Christmas day in beaches.

Boxing Day

Dec 26 is another special public holiday in Australia. It is the ultimate after Christmas sale that is well anticipated by most Australian residents. It is comparable to America’s Black Friday Sale. 

And Filipinos will not allow themselves to be left behind when it comes to this shopping craze. This is when they can score a great bargain of big-ticket items to fill their balikbayan boxes for their loved ones back home.

SUMMARY

Below the summary comparison between the two Christmas traditions based on my knowledge and experience of living in both countries. 

 

Philippine  Christmas Traditions

Australian Christmas Traditions

Season

Cool and dry

Hot and dry (summer)

Temperature

approximately 23 to 30+ degree Celsius

approximately 20 to 40+ degree Celcius

 

Greetings

Maligayang Pasko means Merry Christmas in Tagalog (Filipino Language)

Merry Christmas

Length of Celebration

1st of September until Epiphany (Feast of 3 Kings) – 4 months

Within month of December

 

Celebration Day

Dec 24 (Christmas Eve)
Dec 25 (Christmas Day)
Holy Family Feast – first Sunday after Christmas day

Dec 25 (Christmas Day)
Dec 26 (Boxing Day)
Christmas in July (winter feel Christmas Celebration)

Celebration meal

Noche Buena or Christmas Eve

Christmas Day lunch or dinner

 

 

Christmas Foods

Lechon, ham, barbeque, Filipino spaghetti, paella, queso de bola, roasted chestnuts (castanas), macaroni salad, boodle fight, bibingkaputo bumbong, fruit/buko salad, ubeleche flan, kakanin

Turkey, Ham, Christmas roast, barbeque, seafood, pavlova, Christmas trifle, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, mince pies, white Christmas, mangoes, cherries

Christmas Songs

Ang Pasko ay sumapit (Levi Selerio); 
Christmas in our hearts (Jose Mari Chan)

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas (Michael Buble); Aussie Jingle Bells (Bucko & Champs)

 

Decorations and Symbols

ParolBelen
Christmas tree; 
Christmas lights

Christmas tree; 
Christmas lights; 
advent calendars; 
Christmas crackers

Gift Giving and Symbolic Gesture

Monito-Monita
Aguinaldo
Mano 
or Pagmamano

Kris-Kringle; Secret Santa; mostly gift giving (rarely money)

 

Characters

Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph); Angels; Santa Claus; Ninong and Ninang (godparents)

Santa Claus (Father Christmas), 
Mrs. Santa, elves

 

 

Activities

Christmas parties; family reunions; games and raffle prizes; karaoke; see Christmas displays

Christmas parties; 
family reunions; 
picnic and barbies (bbq);
beach parties; 
see Christmas displays

 

Events

Simbang-gabiMisa de GalloPanunuluyan

Carols by Candlelight; 
The Boxing Day test match (cricket); 
Sydney to Hobart yacht race

CONCLUSION:

Australian and Filipino Christmas traditions both have their own distinct ways of celebration. 

For Australians, they may find some of Filipino traditions strange. Likewise, Filipinos may find Australian traditions different. At the end of the day, it is a matter of appreciation of which culture you most grew up with.

For Filipinos like us living home away from home, Christmas will always spark a feeling of homesickness.  We will always yearn for the lengthy Christmas spirits back home.

We may not be able to experience real Filipino Christmas in the Philippines every single year but we are blessed to be able to return home every now and then as budget and schedule permit during this most wonderful time of the year.

They say there’s no place like home. Hence, there’s no perfect Christmas than a Christmas spent with the people we value and feel home the most, be it in the Philippines or down here in Australia.

I hope you find some interesting facts in this post and please don’t forget sharing of knowledge is caring. Please share it with your families and friends who may find this post interesting.

What are your favourite Christmas traditions?

Please share it in the comment section below.

May you enjoy your wonderful Christmas traditions in this COVID normal condition.

I am a busy mummy to 2 and a wifey to one. I am very careful when it comes to the needs of my family and home. I am particularly lazy to look for things and thoroughly crazy to do everything that’s why I am thankful for organizing. I am a certified meticulous when it comes to anything that involves effort, time, and money at home and beyond our home. In my spare time (if I am lucky), I engrossed myself reading, experimenting in the kitchen, exploring my tiny little garden, learning and saving from DIYs.

3 thoughts on “Tale of Two Traditions: How to Celebrate Filipino Christmas on a hot summer day in Australia”

  1. Elizabeth Gonzales

    Hi Ann, I enjoyed reading this and looking at the nice photos. I’d like to know what “Panunuluyan” is as we don’t have this tradition (I think) in the southern Philippines. Thanks.

    1. Hi Tita Beth,
      Wow, katuwa naman po you are reading this post. Thanks for taking the time! I see… I thought Panunuluyan is a common tradition in the Philippines. Panunuluyan is a Filipino Christmas tradition of reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s search of a place for Mary to give birth to Jesus. Their search ended up in a manger. It is often performed in the streets or during mass celebrations in the Philippines.

    2. Hi Tita Beth, thanks for your question earlier. I thought of including additional description relevant to Philippine events during Christmas e.g. the Panunuluyan for a bit of clarification.

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