Christmas is one of the widely celebrated holidays and truly the longest celebration in the Philippines. As soon as the month ending with “ber” rolls around, preparations for Christmas begins. Since many believe that it’s a time for family, for sharing, for food, fun, and friendship, it’s already a tradition to enjoy this season with your loved ones.
By the way, Christmas is not a rare thing. It might be awkward to say that you don’t know what’s going on about this familiar thing, for this is celebrated by 1/3 of people across the globe and considered as the most anticipated fiesta of the year.
Celebrated every 25thof December, Christmas in the first place is identified as the birth date of the holy child, Jesus Christ. Like in the Philippines which is a tropical country, Filipinos absolutely enjoy Christmas holidays even though there are no snow flakes falling from within as what winter does in the West. While in Italy, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated before people learn Christmas. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun. Until in fourth century when church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday and Pope Julius I chose December 25 as its celebration date. Italians believe that their Christmas was original and historical. But Filipinos are proud to proclaim that their Christmas celebration is the longest and merriest in the world. The point is that what ever the climate of a country and how beautiful its nature is, as long as warm-hearted people with their true devotion to family and faith signifies the true meaning of Christmas. No matter what religion you believe, what tradition you practice in celebrating this event and wherever you are, still each one should respect one another’s conviction beyond the deep understanding of what Christmas really is.
Therefore, let’s not waste time. Listed below are the ways of how Filipinos and Italians celebrate their Christmas.
Yes! In the Philippines, Christmas would be meaningless without the traditional symbols and decorations. Filipinos make beautiful and colorful Christmas decorations along their houses, as if a competition is presently going on between them and their remote neighbors. Star lantern made of bamboo is the most common décor you could see in every Filipino home. As a symbol of Christmas, it represents the guiding light and the star in Bethlehem. Filipinos really enjoy decorating their homes not only with star lanterns but also with all sorts of Christmas decors. A Christmas tree usually placed at the center of the living room, strung with multicolored lights while humming a famous jingle tune, is also an adornment during the celebration, together with a belen which is a tableau representing the Nativity scene. There are also alluring Christmas cards, pinned on red and green ribbons, hung inside the house or displayed under the Christmas tree.
Meanwhile, one of the most important ways of celebrating Christmas in Italy
is having a decoration of Nativity crib scene. It’s actually the Italian version of Filipino’s belen and it’s in the city of Naples where cribs and crib making are world famous. The Nativity scene is one of the most beloved and enduring symbols of Christmas in Italy. Creating the Nativity scene during Christmas essentially originated in Italy and is now a popular custom not only in the said country but also in many other parts of the world. Legend has it that, St. Francis of Assisi once asked Giovanni Vellita, a villager of Greccio, to create a manger scene. Giovanni made a very beautiful Nativity scene and before this St. Francis performed a mass. Thereafter, the creation of the figures or pastori became a very popular genre of folk art. Moreover, Nativity scene is known as Presepe Napoletano which means Neapolitan Cribs. Cribs are traditionally put out on the 8th of December. But the figure of the baby Jesus isn’t put into the crib until the evening of December 24. Naples is also the home of the largest crib scene in the world, which has over 600 objects on it. There include not only the usual characters and figures in the Christmas story but also the figures of commoners in an actual community such as politicians, teachers, engineers, and so on.
Christmas in the Philippines formally begins on December 16 with attendance at the first of nine pre-dawn or early morning masses and continues on nonstop until the first Sunday of January, and the Feast of the Three Kings that officially ends the season.
Filipino Christmas is a mixture of Western and native Filipino traditions. Knowing Santa Claus, sending Christmas cards, and singing carols came from the cultures of the West to fit with the nature and personality of every Filipinos. One of the Filipino traditions is the Christmas Novena or Simbang Gabi. It is a nine-day celebration before the Christmas Day. Literally, simbang gabi means ‘night worship.’ Catholic churches throughout the country will be ringing bells around 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning long before the rooster’s crow, to send message of hope in God and of peace on earth. Whatever others perception to this celebration, it is only a modicum of reflection and allows everyone to gain insight into the deeper meaning of Christmas.
In Italy, the Christmas traditions are based heavily on the religion of Christianity. The opening of the Holy season is announced by the sound of cannon firing of Saint Angelo in Rome. Eight days before Christmas, a special service of prayers and church worship begin which ends on Christmas Day. This special service is known as Novena, a Roman Catholic worship service consisting of prayers on nine consecutive days. During this period, children dressed as shepherds, playing pipes, go from house to house reciting Christmas poems and singing Christmas carols. Usually, money is given to these children right after their performance and small presents are drawn from the Urn of Fate. On Christmas Day, the pope gives his blessing to crowds gathered in the huge Vatican square. Present there are families clothed with their new pair of shoes, and shining jewelries. Furthermore, Italian children wait until Epiphany, January 6, for their presents. Traditionally, the presents are delivered by a kind ugly witch whom they named Befana on a broomstick. This is the Italian version of Santa Claus. It was said that she was told by the three kings that the baby Jesus was born, but she was busy and delayed visiting the baby at that time. And so what she did was she never stops searching for the baby and always leaves presents at every house with children in case the holy child is there. She slides down chimneys, and fills stockings and shoes with good things for good children and she leaves coals for the bad ones.
Another tradition performed in a Filipino home during holidays is the Christmas Eve. As its name implies, it is a midnight exactly dated every 24th of December without sleep and a continuous celebration moving right into Christmas Day. After the last mass of simbang gabi, a family feast called Noche Buena is immediately followed. Foods are served usually in buffet style which includes lechon baboy, queso de bola, hamon, pancit, fried chicken, chocolates, fruit salads, and so on. Drinks such as teas, juices, wines, and other alcoholic liquors, are also served ice-cold on the buffet table. Friends, relatives, neighbors, and visitors, dined of the food prepared by the host family while dropping a wish to every family member “Merry Christmas!” This gathering not only provides an opportunity for a reunion of immediate and family distant family members but also to share love among people with same beliefs. Some families may choose to exchange gifts at this time while others preferred to wait until Christmas Day. There are also families who have a talent show during Christmas Eve celebration. Children who standout best after asked to perform in the spotlight will be rewarded tokens from their rich relatives.
A strict feast is observed for 24 hours before Christmas Eve in Italy, and is followed by a celebration meal, in which a light Milanese cake called panettone features is served as well as chocolate. Another famous cake is Pandoro, a soft golden colored variety which originated in Verona. During the Christmas Eve, a traditional dish of eel is also served hot on the table for they believe that the fish brings peace and good luck to the family. Though the menu varies from region to region, the first course of a Christmas feast is Lasagna, Cannelloni or a timbale of pasta. Mixed roast or roast beef form the main item for the second course. These are served with various types of cheeses, fruits (dried and otherwise) and lots of sweets, all soaked in a good quality red or white wine. Grappa, Whiskey and other hard liquors are also served during the feast. A Tortellini in Brodo which is filled with pasta parcels in broth is the common dish during Christmas Day lunch.
Christmas Day in Filipino and Italian styles is really a popular day not only for colorful decorations, delicious foods served, precious gifts shared, and paid visits by children to their godparents, but also a day of family closeness which everyone wishes good cheers and glad tidings at each other. Wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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