September 15, 2023
by Zeth Angelo Bacaoco
As September breezes in, the Philippines transforms into a winter wonderland seemingly overnight. Streets become adorned with colorful lights, homes are embellished with festive ornaments, and familiar Christmas tunes fill the air. The tantalizing smells of bibingka and puto bumbong waft through the air. Smiles, laughter, and holiday greetings are exchanged by strangers and old friends alike. This is the magical start of the “Ber Months” – the period from September to December when Filipinos begin reveling in the Christmas spirit months ahead of the actual holiday. The Filipino spirit comes alive as they celebrate the holiday season months earlier than in many other parts of the world. This long-standing tradition offers a window into the Filipino culture and what drives their early embrace of the Yuletide spirit.
Christmas holds a special place in the hearts of Filipinos. Homes across the islands are soon decked out in colorful holiday lights, glittering Christmas trees, and nativity scenes known as Belen. Kids eagerly await the tradition of houses giving out holiday treats to carolers. Malls bustle with Christmas tunes and crowded sales. Delicious seasonal foods like bibingka (rice cake) and puto bumbong (purple sticky rice) start popping up on street corners. From childhood memories of parol-making competitions to family traditions of Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) or Misa De Gallo, this festive season resonates with a unifying spirit that brings the entire nation together. The early start to the Christmas season allows Filipinos to extend the holiday cheer and relish the shared joy and warmth that December brings. It has become ingrained as a cultural legacy unique to the Philippines.
One unique tradition is Misa De Gallo, a series of early morning masses leading up to Christmas. Starting December 16, churchgoers rise before dawn and attend these masses for nine straight days. Churches are packed with devout Filipinos, providing a solemn yet festive start to each day. Vendors outside sell steaming cups of tea or thick hot chocolate to help shake off the pre-dawn chill. This devout practice signifies spiritual reflection and reverence, creating a solemn yet hopeful aura that permeates the entire holiday season. Filipinos hold steadfastly to the value of close-knit family bonds, and Christmas serves as a collective opportunity to strengthen these ties. The months-early celebrations allow families more time to be together, engaging in beloved traditions like putting up festive decorations, exchanging heartfelt gifts, and preparing lavish holiday feasts. With the hustle and bustle of daily life, the early onset of Christmas provides a cherished avenue for Filipinos to create lasting memories and forge deeper connections with loved ones.
Despite adversity from natural disasters to economic turmoil, the Filipino spirit of Bayanihan has endured, with Christmas serving as a collective beacon of hope and resilience in the face of hardships. It allows Filipinos to find the light amid difficulties and embrace the joy that the holiday season promises, honoring the Filipino spirit of Bayanihan (community support) and steadfast optimism.
The influence of Western culture and media has also contributed to the early Christmas celebrations. The far-reaching spread of Christmas-themed movies, songs, and advertisements has shaped Filipino perceptions of when the season should commence. Furthermore, the retail industry capitalizes on the early Christmas trend, enticing eager consumers with glittering decorations and tempting sales. This furthers the anticipation and excitement for the upcoming holiday. The Filipino custom of reveling in Christmas months before its actual arrival is a captivating testament to the nation’s unique blend of faith, familial bonds, and enduring optimism. The fusion of culture, devotion, and communal joy creates a magical atmosphere that envelops the Philippines well before the calendar hits December. It encapsulates the resilience and merriment that defines the Filipino people, leaving both locals and visitors in awe of this truly extraordinary early celebration of Christmas.
There are many theories about when and why Filipinos adopted this uncharacteristically early Yuletide spirit. One claims that expatriate Filipinos living abroad started longing for Christmas as early as September, to coincide with the Western holiday season. Another speculates that Filipinos wanted to stretch out the festivities as long as possible. Regardless of how it started, it has become a cherished tradition rooted in family, faith, and exuberant celebration. For Filipinos, the last four months of the year are devoted to spreading Christmas cheer. Next time you find yourself humming “Jingle Bells” too early, blame it on the infectious Filipino Christmas spirit. In the Philippines, it’s never too soon to get into the holiday swing. When the “Ber” months arrive, it’s open season for Christmas magic and joy. So sit back, turn up the holiday tunes, and let the countdown to Christmas begin!