Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

Christmas in the Philippines

There's a reason why I chose to focus on the Philippines for my December Dinner & a Movie. Unlike most other Asian countries, the Philippine Islands have a large Catholic population and a rich tradition of celebrating Christmas.

The tradition of Christmas was introduced to the Philippines by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565, and has since become a beloved celebration. In preparation for the feast, a novena (nine day prayer ceremony) known as Misa de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses) is started on December 16. Misas de Aguinaldo began in Mexico in 1587 when Fra Diego petitioned the Pope for permission to hold Christmas masses outdoors because the church could not contain the multitude who attended services. The masses came to be known as Misas de Aguinaldo.

In the Philippines, during the harvest season when the farmers had to start work in the fields at dawn, the masses were held at 4:00 a.m. In the villages, just before the mass, the parish priest leads a lively musical procession through the streets, knocking on doors to awaken the town for the Misa de Aguinaldo. After the service, they drink a ginger tea called salabat, and enjoy puto bumbong, a traditional dish of steamed violet rice served with sugar and grated coconut. On Christmas Day, they exchange gifts, pay homage to godparents and visit with friends and relatives.