This month’s City Love is dedicated to two of my most favorite things – Manila and Christmas! I was born and raised in Manila and migrated to California when I was 8 years old so there’s always been a strong connection to the Philippines and Manila. It’s home. And Christmas. Who doesn’t love Christmas? I love Christmas so much I can listen to Christmas music any time of the year. And Filipinos pretty much do just that.
It is not uncommon for you to see Christmas decorations and hear music start playing as early as September here in the Philippines as it is the beginning of the -BER Months (SeptemBER, OctoBER, NovemBER, DecemBER) and they’re muy serioso about the holiday here. Regardless of the economic status of a Filipino family, they will do all they can to celebrate Christmas with decorations, gifts, food, and gatherings. I guess that’s the most important thing, to be able to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ with your loved ones.
So visiting the Philippines in December is one of my favorite things because everyone is in the spirit and as hot as it may be, I can’t help but feel the joy and enjoy the warmth that you are surrounded with. With that, you’ll find below some things to take note of if you ever visit Manila during the holiday season.
Malls, Malls, Malls!
With a mall at what seems like every corner, you’ll sure to catch the Christmas spirit because of all the decorations and remixed holiday music (think Gangnam Style and All I Want for Christmas mashed up) as you do your shopping. You’ll also find that the malls are overly packed during the holiday season – and Black Friday crowds ain’t got nothing on Manila during the holidays. Each mall will also try to out do each other’s decorations and it is definitely really magical.
Traffic – Que Horror!
Be prepared to spend more time commuting than actually doing the activity you’re planning on doing because of all the traffic. Be also prepared for the taxis who get a little choosy about who they pick up (they may not want to travel that far, there might be too much traffic, and/or may ask for a little extra on top of your meter). But under any circumstance never contract a taxi, always ask them to run the meter. It’ll always be cheaper if the meter is running even if they take you the longest route possible.
If you’re planning on dining out a pretty popular place, try to make reservations as early as possible if they take reservations. Case and point, my parents and I planned on eating dinner with close family friends and I suggested the best buffet spot I’ve been to here in Manila, Vikings (they have the local beer on tap right next to the soda fountain, without an attendant!). I called to make a reservation and was told that they didn’t have any openings till December 31st, well over two weeks from when we wanted to have dinner! And this was at a restaurant that I was able to just walk into and get seated without any reservations last June. Try to plan ahead and definitely make those reservations to avoid all the family reunions and company parties.
Enjoy Christmas the Filipino Way
I really do think that Filipinos do Christmas differently than anyone else and there’s a lot to take in and participate in to get in the mood. Simbang Gabi (Mass at Night) is a Filipino Catholic tradition of going to church very early morning (usually around 4am before the sun rises) for the 9 nights leading up to Christmas. It can be challenging waking up that early every morning for 9 days but you can also look forward to the street food treats that you can enjoy post mass. Street cart vendors sell all types treats but the most famous during the holiday season are puto bumbong and bibingka (two types of steamed rice cakes).
Christmas carolers are also very Filipino. I honestly have not encountered any non-Filipino groups caroling in the US and here in the Philippines you’ll have the organized church groups, group of street kids with their cans and sticks, and professional singing groups coming around caroling to raise a few pesos during the holidays. It’s always a lot of fun to be put in the mood with Christmas songs!
Also don’t be surprised if you find yourself attending/being invited to 10 Christmas parties by the end of the season! They sure do love to party here! I got invited to a friend’s Christmas party and from there received another 3 invitations for other Christmas parties being thrown by the people who attended my friend’s party. And I just seriously met these people that night!
I love the holidays in Manila because of just that, the celebration does not end and despite how commercialized it may seem, I don’t think that people forget the true meaning of Christmas here. Being with your loved ones, old and new, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is clearly evident in the smiles, laughter, and general good times you’ll see during the holiday season!