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The Longest Christmas

Filipinos are known for their love of Christmas, celebrating it for months on end, and eagerly anticipating it for the rest of the year. From September to February, from dawn ‘til dusk, the longest Yuletide season in the world happens in the Philippines.

Make a wish and have it come true in this part of Southeast Asia. Complete the Misa de Gallo (“Rooster’s Mass”) or Simbang Gabi (“Night Mass”), a string of nine masses from the 16th to the 24th of December. The parol (a Christmas star fashioned out of bamboo sticks and brightly-coloured paper) and belen (nativity scene) are also integral parts of the celebration. Bundled up in their coats, Filipinos step out the church and flock to the food stalls for bibingka (a thick pancake with bits of egg, topped with grated coconut), puto bumbong (a purple delicacy made of sticky rice and wrapped in banana leaves), and salabat (ginger tea) for an early morning meal.

More food is dished out during Noche Buena (“Good Night” or Christmas Eve), when families gather for a feast of hamon (honey-glazed ham), queso de bola (edam cheese), and tsokolate-eh (hot chocolate). Presents are opened under the tree, which has likely been up since November.

Other traditions include the Panunuluyan, where Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in is re-enacted to the rhythm of folksongs. Carolling is also popular, starting a little later than the advent of Christmas songs on the radio.

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