A diver dressed as Santa Claus feeds the fish at the aquarium. (Ted Aljibe/Getty Images)
Filipinos love an excuse to party, and Christmas is the biggest, longest party of all. In the Philippines, they start celebrating three months early, giving them the longest Christmas season in the world! It starts as soon as the "Ber-Months" do — SeptemBER, OctoBER, NovemBER and… DecemBER!
So even as early as September, get ready to say Maligayang Pasko (say "mali-GAH-yang pahs-KOH") or Merry Christmas, and keep that good cheer in your heart for as long as you can.
Santa says hello to a mother and her child as he feeds fish at the aquarium in Manila. (Ted Adjibe/Getty Images)
Christmas is known as Pasko in the Philippines. A lot of its traditions, like the Christmas tree or Santa Claus, came to the country from North America.
Even though Christmas usually means snow and cold weather, the Philippines is on the equator, which means it never snows, there’s no winter season, and it only gets a little cooler as the months go on.
A man sells Christmas decorations from a street stall in Manila. (Jam Sta Rosa/Getty Images)
Christmas carolers start coming around singing outside homes around November and December, and it’s a good time to be generous with your gifts and donations. They even start selling Christmas decor in the stores.
A man sells Christmas lanterns known as parol in Manila. (Noel Celis/Getty Images)
The parol (say "pah-ROL") is a Filipino star lantern that can either be made of wood and paper, or metal and a shell called capiz (say "CAH-peez"). These lanterns light up the dark with beautiful colours and patterns, and are a staple in Filipino holidays.
Shoppers watch the lighting ceremony of a 18-metre Christmas tree at the Mall of Asia in Manila. (Ted Adjibe/Getty Images)
The Christmas tree is definitely a familiar tradition, though in many houses they go up as early as September or October. They appear both in homes and out in offices and hotel lobbies. Malls having the biggest ones of all.
People enjoy the Ayala Triangle Gardens Light and Sound Festival during the holidays in Manila. (NAMHWI KIM/123RF Stock Photo)
The cities become lit up with Christmas lights all over. Traditionally, you could visit a mall every weekend during the Christmas season and see unbelievable fireworks and light shows counting down the days to December. With Covid, everyone’s going to have to celebrate responsibly by social distancing and wearing masks, but you don’t need to be packed in to drive by the awesome lights or the fireworks bursting above the city.
A Roman Catholic church decorated with bright lights for traditional Christmas masses. (Jay Directo/Getty Images)
Noche Buena (say "NOH-chay BWEH-nah") is the big Christmas Eve party where a huge feast is served right after most people come home from midnight mass. This year might just be a small gathering and virtual mass with social distancing and mask wearing.
You get to stay up really, really late in the evening, eat lots of amazing food and open all the gifts you saw waiting for you under the tree for months. Sometimes the only reason kids even go to bed is to see if Santa leaves them anything else to open come Christmas morning.
A platter of crispy-skinned pork, or lechon, which is a the main dish of the holiday table. (Namhwi Kim/123RF Stock Photo)
Filipino food is already amazing on its own, but Filipino Christmas food is a whole other beast.
Some Filipino Christmas foods include sweet Filipino spaghetti, the bright orange noodles of Pancit Malabon (say "pan-CEET mah-lah-BUHN") and the shocking but delicious crispy-skinned Lechon (say "let-CHON"), or suckling pig, which is usually the centrepiece of the celebrations.
Biko brown sugar rice cake. (Mychko Alexander/123RF Stock Photo)
There are many awesome desserts, some of which you can even buy on the street. Sapin-sapin (say "sah-PEEN sa-peen") is a layered glutinous, or sticky, cake coloured white, yellow and purple. Bibingka (say "Bih-BING-kuh") is a sweet glutinous rice cake you cook in a clay pot and cover in shredded coconut and sugar. And Biko (say "BEE-koh") is a huge and sticky brown-sugar rice cake.
Children who were victims of the typhoon flooding wait to receive Christmas gifts in Manila. (Noel Celis/Getty Images)
It has been a hard year for everyone with Covid leaving many people sick or out of work in the Philippines.
The country also gets a lot of typhoons — same as a hurricane, but it's in the Northwest Pacific — and they sometimes cause a lot of flooding and damage during the holidays.
Still, people find these challenges make celebrating Christmas this year especially important, as the season's focus is being thankful, finding hope, spreading love and being together with family.