In nearly all the Christian-populated towns of this Southeast Asian archipelago of 114 million people have risen giant Christmas trees – and some are being rushed in time for the start of the Midnight masses on Friday this week (Dec. 16, 2022).
From lanterns along the highway or in many Christian homes to display a merry season, Disneyland has also risen in a Christmas Village in Pamplona, Cagayan while dancing lights are up in some towns of Ilocos Norte, the home province of the rebel Catholic priest Gregorio Aglipay.
Many have started preparing for the Night Mass – known as Simbang Gabi in the National Capital Region and Miatinis in the Ilocos.
On the fifth night from tonight will begin the series of nine Masses traditionally celebrated in the pre-dawn hours each day from December 16 to December 24, the custom which began as a way of accompanying Mary symbolically in prayer through the nine months of her pregnancy.
At the Plaza Independencia of Lipa City, Jane Recede says there is a nearly 20-meter high Christmas tree, courtesy of the Sangguniang Panglungsod, lighted for 12 hours until 5 am as of November.
There is another giant Christmas tree at the Lipa Cathedral, where the nine pre-dawn masses start on Friday at 4 am, with those attending Masses overwhelmed on their way out with the native puto bumbong, the Filipino purple rice cake steamed in bamboo tubes – a sight seen in many other areas of this country like Samar, Quezon, Rizal, and Albay as well as Tarlac, Pampanga, and Pangasinan which received the Christian Cross in the 16th century.
There is also the native bibingka, the fluffy cake made of glutinous galapong or rice dough, which is as well relished in the Ilocos Region and Cagayan Valley.
In Minglanilla, Cebu, Marivic Rosal talks of praying the Rosary followed by the 4 am Mass, with vendors of puto maya, a sticky rice cake made of steamed glutinous rice, fresh ginger juice and sweetened coconut milk, ready with their accompanying sikwate, the Cebuano version of hot chocolate or the tsokolate de batirol prepared by adding cocoa tablets.
In Paoay, Ilocos Norte, where the UN Heritage Lister Roman Catholic Church is, known for its colonial earthquake baroque architecture, Dr. Wilma Natividad talks of dancing lights that accompany a wave of rhythmic music and a giant Christmas tree in front of the town hall near the church.
In Cagayan, known for its breathtaking rolling hills, the Sierra Madre mountain, great beaches, and amazing caves, the first-class town of Gonzaga is also setting up a Christmas tree.
But the town of Pamplona, according to Zena Gail, has a Christmas village called Disneyland, where the young and old prepare for the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.
More than 140 kms from Manila is a balmy barangay, inappropriately named Caturay, which has become, at least among highway travelers, an early Central Luzon symbol of Christmas in this predominantly Christian country.
The barangay name is derived from the corkwood tree whose flowers are relished as salad by Ilocanos in the Central Plains north of the capital up to the northernmost towns and villages of Ilocos and the Cagayan Valley.
As early as the latter part of September up to the cold weeks of December, the area provides stiff business competition to lantern makers 73 kms south of Gerona, where the giant lantern parade has become an icon for the Christmas festival in this country.
Farther north, in Rosario town in La Union, 216 kms from Manila, a tree house at the junction is decked with multi-colored lanterns that provide lights to and tribute from night travelers passing by following relaxed pandemic lockdowns – those from the Ilocos and Benguet or those driving from the metropolis for quick visits to the province at this time.
Some towns in La Union, like Aringay and Bacnotan, Ilocos Sur, like Cabugao and Sinait, and Ilocos Norte, like Badoc, the hometown of the Lunas, and the Darat junction in Pinili, where Filipino guerrillas fought hand-to-hand combat against the Americans during the Philippine American War, have their share of the night lights from giant lanterns along the concrete MacArthur highway.
In the metropolis, particularly near the Greenhills shopping center, motorists can switch off their headlights with the bright gleam from lanterns of different shapes on both sides of Gilmore street.
At the busy Roxas Blvd. fronting Manila Bay, lanterns of different shapes and with several bulbs are hung on electric posts, making a kaleidoscopic skyline for the capital during the night.
The Christmas lanterns are like the carols being sung starting in September in this country, one of two predominantly Catholic countries in Asia -– the other is East Timor — which has become a lasting symbol for one of the biggest holidays in this archipelago of 98 million.
The Philippines, which became a predominantly Christian nation in the 16th century following the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, has several symbols of Christmas, but the lanterns are the biggest in this country.
Homes and buildings are dolled up with beautiful star lanterns called “parol,” from the Spanish “farol” which means lantern.
Traditionally, “parols,” made of bamboo sticks wrapped with crepe paper and a candle to illuminate it, are denotative of the star of Bethlehem which led the lowly shepherds to Jesus’ manger 2,000 years ago.
Almost every home, city street, building, shopping district, public square, department store, commercial area, and church are decorated with lustrous Christmas trees and prismatic blinking lights.
”Parol” is a traditional Filipino Christmas decoration, a five-point star-shaped Christmas lantern.
Starting in the latter part of September, lanterns -– some have taken other shapes like Santa Claus with his herd of reindeers and other innovations symbolic of Christmas, are seen everywhere.
Originally, the Filipino lantern was made of thin bamboo frames and masked with colored cellophane or with rice paper also known as Japanese paper or “papel de Japon.” It has two tails that serve as the rays of the star.