Allison's Book Bag

Filipino Christmas Q&A with Leonora Hunter

Posted on: June 18, 2014



This week, I reviewed a book about Christmas in the Philippines. It focused on how Roman Catholics celebrated the religious holiday, which is natural due to their comprising about 80% of the population. To understand how Protestants might honor Christmas, I talked with my step-mom. She is originally from the Philippines. Moreover, her parents were Pentecostal pastors.

What follows isn’t an exact word-for-word transcript. Instead I compiled my notes to create Leonora’s answers. Thank you, Leonora, for your time!

ALLISON: Roman Catholics start celebrating Christmas as early as December 16. When did your family begin its holiday activities?

LEONORA: About a week before, we would go out caroling. If our church needed something like a new guitar, we’d collect money. Other times, we might get small gifts.

ALLISON: Did you celebrate Christmas at school?

Jackfruit tree

By Crops for the Future (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

LEONORA: We celebrated Christmas in school from grades one to six. The school was decorated. We heard Bible Stories. I didn’t hear about Santa Claus, except from friends. We had a tree, but not an evergreen. It was one made out of a jackfruit tree and we used soap on it to make it look like snow. We decorated it with crepe paper, tinsel, and Christmas ornaments that were donated or that we made. There was a gift exchange, but with a limit on the price so that everyone could afford it.

There was a contest for making the best lantern. Our teacher showed us how to make one. My dad made one designed like a clock for me. It was big. I couldn’t make it, because it was big and hard to carry. He made it out of bamboo and crepe paper. My sister made one to look like the US flag. We didn’t buy fancy ones like in the store, because we couldn’t afford them.

(You can find more information about how to make a parol at My Parol. It also contains information about traditional music, including words to songs, and gifts in the Philippines.)

ALLISON: Roman Catholics often buy new clothes for Christmas Eve and attend a special mass. How did your family celebrate Christmas Eve?

LEONORA: We attend church too and enjoy a night together. There’s a singing contest for all ages and a prize. There might be games like a relay race with spoons. There’s a Bible drill. We exchange gifts and eat a potluck. There’s lots of good food! People stay late. I remember kids falling asleep in the pews.

ALLISON: How did your family celebrate Christmas Day?

LEONORA: We have a late breakfast. Lots of families are still there from Christmas Eve. When everyone’s bellies are full, they go home but then return later to sing and have fun.

ALLISON: Did you have a tree?

LEONORA: We used a plant. In the store, there was a decorated plastic green tree. It was beautiful but we couldn’t afford anything like that.

ALLISON: According to the book Christmas in the Philippines, common gifts were toys, money, and candy. Also, grandparents would give gold coins. What kind of gifts did you receive?

LEONORA: Not a lot. Gifts were mostly through exchange. My grandparents give me chips. I might get toys but not dolls. Sometimes I got money. The gold coins is a Catholic tradition. If I got candy, it was lollipops not candy canes like here.

ALLISON: Food is apparently an important part of a traditional Filipino Christmas. What were your favorite Christmas foods?

LEONORA: For Christmas, we had a potluck. There was chicken. We had turkey too, but cooked in Filipino style on a big skewer. There was Babinka which is a sweet cake and puto bongbong which is a sticky dessert with shredded coconut. There was lots of food!

Pigs on skewers

These are pigs rather than turkeys, but you get the idea

ALLISON: What other holidays were significant?

LEONORA: Three Kings is in January and ends the Christmas festivities. There was a dance in town. My parents held a church service.

For Valentine’s Day, we cut out red paper hearts and decorate them. We can’t afford to buy store ones. Cards are exchanged at school in elementary grades.

At Easter, we have a sunrise service. No one talks about the Easter bunny. There aren’t Easter chocolates like here.

Thanksgiving is a big holiday. It’s held in the church. Families get together for a potluck and a message. There is a special speaker. The congregation votes on who will come and talks about what food to bring. Friends come from far away. If a family builds a new house, we might hold Thanksgiving there and everyone will come with food.

The jackfruit photo is a public domain image from Wikipedia. Otherwise all of the photos came from Leonora or friends of hers. Thank you, Leonora!

Thanksgiving sign

A Thanksgiving sign in the window of a home in the Philippines

2 Responses to "Filipino Christmas Q&A with Leonora Hunter"


Thanks! I have one more interview planned with Leonora. 🙂

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