A Very Filipino Christmas: Celebrating Christmas in the Philippines and Abroad

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:30 am

The Philippines are known for their Christmas spirit. Whether you’re a Filipino living abroad or just want to learn more about Christmas traditions in the Philippines, this guide created by our team here at Remitly is for you.

In this piece, we’ll describe some of the most common features of Filipino Christmas celebrations for those who have never experienced the holidays in the country and give tips on how Filipinos living abroad can enjoy celebrating Christmas while away from home.

Filipino Christmas traditions

When is Christmas in the Philippines?

The Philippines is home to what is arguably the longest Christmas season in the world. In Western countries and many other places, the Christmas period begins in November, but Filipino families actually kick things off in September. The Christmas celebration continues throughout October, November, and December, so many people say that the “Ber” months are the Christmas season in the Philippines.

The main reason for the long celebration is that Filipinos love Christmas. Many people simply don’t see the point in delaying Christmas when the holidays bring so much joy.

Although the season gets off to an early start, the actual dates of formal celebrations are the same in the Philippines as they are in other countries. December 24 is Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day falls on December 25.

Filipinos continue to celebrate Christmas through New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, observed on December 31 and January 1, respectively.

How do you say Merry Christmas in the Philippines?

Because the Philippines is home to eight major languages, there is more than one way to say “Merry Christmas.” Here’s a rundown of the greeting as how it’s said in each major language:

  • Bicolano: Maugmang Pasko
  • Ilocano: Naragsak nga Paskua
  • Ilonggo: Malipayon nga Pascua
  • Kapampangan: Malugud Pascu
  • Pangalatok (Pangasinense): Maabig ya Pasko or Magayagan inkianac
  • Sugbuhanon (Cebuano): Maayong Pasko
  • Tagalog: Maligayang Pasko
  • Waray: Maupay Nga Pasko

How the Philippines celebrate Christmas

So what makes Christmas unique in the Philippines? Let’s explore some popular Christmas traditions to find out.


With 80% of the population identifying as Catholic, Christmas is a religious holiday in the Philippines. As a result, mass is an integral part of the celebrations for many families.

Traditionally, Catholics in the Philippines attend a series of early masses held before dawn at the local church. Collectively, the nine masses are known as the Simbang Gabi. They start on December 16 and occur for nine days between the pre-dawn hours of 3 AM and 5 AM up until December 23.

On Christmas Eve, Catholic Filipinos attend a misa de gallo or rooster’s mass at midnight to celebrate the arrival of Christmas morning and the birth of baby Jesus.

The parol

The most popular Christmas decoration in the Philippines is the parol, a bamboo pole topped with a lighted star that represents the one that guided the shepherds and wise men to the nativity scene. Decorating the parol is often a family affair with everyone coming together to hang bamboo strips and colored paper on the parol.

Other decorations

Many Filipinos display other decorations in honor of the festive season. They may deck out their homes in bright lights or hang star-shaped lanterns. Many homes will also have a traditional Christmas tree decked out in twinkling lights.

To welcome the season, many businesses also display Christmas lights and Christmas lanterns. These decorations may go up as early as October in some places.

Santa R-Kayma Klaws

The gift-giving figure of Santa Claus is a part of Filipino Christmas traditions. Children will often hang socks on their front doors to give Santa Claus a place to stuff small gifts.

Although you’ll often see him depicted traditionally, the Philippines has its own real-life Santa Claus, known as Santa R-Kayma Klaws. A 70-year-old man of Irish descent, Santa R-Kayma Klaws travels through Manila in an air-conditioned bus that he calls his motorized sleigh, bringing Christmas gifts to poor children.


Santa Claus isn’t the only one in charge of gift giving in the Philippines. Family members and friends also exchange gifts in the spirit of the holidays. Christmas gifts are referred to as pamaskos, and the general word for gifts given at any time of the year is regalo.

The Filipinos have a name reserved for special gifts given to children — anguinaldo. When the whole family gets together, children may line up to pay their respects to elder family members by touching the older person’s hands to their foreheads. Afterwards, the little ones enjoy the fun of opening their anguinaldos.

Christmas songs

Christmas songs are popular in the Philippines, and you’ll typically begin hearing them after November 1, which is All Saints Day in the country. Some popular Christmas carols include:

  • Ang Pasko ay Sumapit
  • Christmas in Our Hearts
  • Himig Ng Paska
  • Jingle Bells
  • Kampana Ng Simbahan
  • Kumukutikutitap
  • Mano po Ninong, Mano po Ninan
  • Noche Buena

Starting in mid-December, young Christmas carolers spread cheer by visiting the homes of neighbors and friends. Often, the children play tambourines and other instruments while they perform Christmas carols. It’s customary to give the performers food or coins to thank them for their songs.


The Belen, or nativity scene, is another common part of decorating for the Christmas season. Families and churches will set up a large scene featuring Baby Jesus, Joseph, and the Virgin Mary. In some cases, angels, shepherds, and wise men accompany the scene, and many people illuminate the displays with Christmas lights.

Noche Buena feasts

Filipino families enjoy a large feast after attending Misa de Gallo on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is referred to as Noche Buena or “the good night,” and the amazing food served surely makes for good eating.

Some popular dishes for the post-Misa de Gallo meal include:

  • Lechon: Slow-roasted pig stuffed with pineapple, peppers, and chiles
  • Bibingka: A rice cake made with shredded coconut, prepared at home and sold by street vendors
  • Embutido: A pork meatloaf made with veggies, cheese, and raisins
  • Lumpiang ubod: Spring rolls stuffed with hearts of palm, shrimp, pork, and other fillings
  • Buko salad: A fruit salad made with shredded coconut, fruits, tapioca, and sugar palm
  • Puto bumbong: A purple rice cake made in a clay pot and topped with warm butter, shredded coconut, and brown sugar

12 fruits

After Christmas ends, many Filipino families place 12 fruits in the center of their dining room tables. Some believe the mix of bananas, apples, oranges, and other fruits keep away bad spirits and invite luck for the New Year.


In many workplaces, it’s customary to hold a Manito-Manita gift exchange. This tradition is similar to Secret Santa in that you draw a name from a hat and then buy the person a gift. Male recipients are Manitos, and female ones are Manitas.

The red envelope

Chinese Filipinos have a unique tradition for the Christmas season: the ang pao or red envelope. During the holidays, people present money in red envelopes to their loved ones instead of or in addition to giving a gift.

Three Kings Day

Observed either on January 6 or the first Sunday in January, Three Kings Day pays tribute to the Wise Men’s visit. It typically marks the end of celebrating Christmas traditions in the Philippines.

Although Simbang Gabi has ended, Catholics typically attend mass in the morning. Before the service, it’s customary for men dressed as Magi to walk around the town and give out gifts to children who gather along the sides of the streets.

After the mass, families enjoy holiday foods like brown sugar rice cake treats and roast pork. Often, neighbors will visit one another throughout the day.

Rizal Day

Although not technically part of Christmas in the Philippines, Rizal Day occurs during the holidays. This public holiday pays tribute to Dr. Jose Rizal, an important figure in the Filipino rebellion against the Spanish colonists during the late 19th century.

Since 1902, Filipinos have celebrated the event with a day off work. A large service is held by the President of the Philippines at the Rizal Monument in Manila, and wreath-laying events also take place at the Rizal Monument in Baguio City and Rizal Shrine in Calamba.

Kuya Kim Christmas

4 ways to keep the Filipino Christmas spirit abroad

For OFWs, or overseas Filipino workers, it can be difficult to recreate the spirit of Christmas. However, they’ve found creative ways to celebrate. Here at Remitly, we’ve asked around to find out just how they do it.

While being located in other parts of the world, overseas’ Filipinos strive to make the season special wherever they are. From London to Los Angeles, the Philippines’ overseas community has learned to improvise ways to feel the Christmas spirit from afar.

Celebrate with fellow Filipinos

Each year, large gatherings with Filipino food, karaoke, and gift exchanges take place in many international cities with large Filipino populations. If there isn’t one in your area, you can catch up with fellow Kabayans over Zoom or FaceTime by joining a virtual celebration.

Call loved ones back home

If you can’t be with them personally, the next best option is to be with them on your devices. Technology helps families stay connected across oceans. This is the time of the year families call their loved ones and wish they were together.

Filipino Christmas foods and decorations

Even if Filipinos have been settled for a long time in their new home, many of them keep the classic family traditions on Christmas. These include giving aguinaldo or pamasko, using parol or lantern decorations, cooking Filipino food, and celebrating Noche Buenas.

Get involved with your community

Aside from creating the Philippine-style Christmas spirit in their new host countries, Filipinos also immerse themselves in the local culture. Some share their time and blessings by giving away Christmas food packs, joining fun runs for charity, or volunteering. Even with COVID-related restrictions, many local Filipino organizations hosted remote or socially distanced events and giveaways.

Ideas from our team

We asked our own Remitly team members and friends how they celebrate Christmas away from the Philippines, and here’s what they had to say.

Katrina T., Director, Marketing: “A favorite tradition is staying up late on Christmas Eve, going to midnight mass, exchanging gifts, and having Noche Buena, which is the feast that you share with family and friends. Nothing tastes like the homeland like piping hot tsokolate batirol, pan de sal with queso de bola, and all sorts of other Filipino delicacies on the eve before Christmas!”

Christophe S., Graphic Designer: “On Christmas Eve, I’ll be video calling with my family the whole night, so it feels like I’m sitting down with them for Noche Buena and Christmas dinner.”

Celebrate Christmas wherever you are

How do you keep the spirit of Christmas in the Philippines alive away from the islands?

Wherever you find yourself at Christmas this year, we at Remitly wish you a very merry celebration.

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