Christmas in the Philippines is nothing like anywhere else in the world. For one thing, Filipinos switch on holiday mode as early as September. With three months’ worth of celebration, it’s undoubtedly the country’s most anticipated season. And perhaps, no matter what city or island you visit here, the locals have something to offer come Christmas time, be it food, parades, religious festival or light show. If you wish to experience something new for the holiday, here are some festivities you shouldn’t miss.
1. Giant Lantern Festival: San Fernando, Pampanga
The lantern or parol is a quintessential symbol of Christmas in the Philippines. You’ll see this star-shaped decoration everywhere: at home, along the streets, in the markets, at the malls. Paper, bamboo, plastic and a bulb at the centre are its usual raw materials. But if you want to see exceptional lanterns, then head to San Fernando in Pampanga, the country’s Christmas capital.
Here, local artisans from various villages join the annual Giant Lantern Festival to compete for the best lantern maker in town. And these are not ordinary lanterns. We’re talking about two-storey high, thousand kilo, giant lanterns! Capiz shells make up their exterior, making the lanterns more durable and luminescent. During the competition, these colourful parols light up the night and dances in time with the music. Afterwards, these lanterns will be on display all over Pampanga until January for spectators to see.
- Tip: Pampanga is also the Philippines’ culinary centre, so make sure to ask around for the best food to try for a feast filled with local favourites and exotic dishes.
2. Christmas Village: Baguio City, Benguet
There is no snow during Christmas in the Philippines. And so, tourists would often travel north, to Baguio City, to escape the humid weather and experience a winter-like holiday. In the City of Pines, temperatures can drop as low as 8C. And it’s probably the only place in the tropical country where you’ll see people wearing jackets and beanies outside. People often come to the city to go tourist spot hopping, visiting popular destinations like Burnham Park, Camp John Hay and Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad.
One place in Baguio that you should go to is the Baguio Country Club. Here, visitors can see the Christmas Village and watch a play re-enacting the famous nativity scene. Afterwards, lanterns light up the venue while people enjoy walking on artificial snow. It’s best to come here at night. But before heading out, make sure to write your Christmas wish and hang it on the wall at Santa’s booth.
- Tip: If you’re looking for inexpensive Christmas presents for yourself or loved ones, there’s plenty of good buys at Baguio’s sidewalk bazaars and night markets.
3. Maytinis Festival: Kawit, Cavite
Cavite is a top tourist destination as it is only a few hours drive from Metro Manila, the Philippines’ capital region. People would often come here for a day trip or weekend getaway, mainly to go food tripping or food souvenir shopping. The province also has a long list of beautiful and historical churches worth visiting. Tagaytay is perhaps its most popular stop because of its cool weather and many restaurants overlooking Taal Volcano.
During Christmas eve, Cavite’s main draw would have to be its Maytinis Festival in Kawit. The highlight of the event is Panunuluyan or a stage play re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. While in Kawit, you can also visit the Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine for its nightly Christmas light shows. A Christmas bazaar at Freedom Park is also one of the main attractions.
- Tip: The city of Imus in Cavite also organises a month-long Paskuhan Festival that showcases song and dance presentations, trade fairs, parades, beauty contests and fireworks display.
4. Christmas House: Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental
If your ideal Christmas in the Philippines includes sightseeing, hiking and diving, then make your way to Dumaguete, the city of gentle people. This peaceful coastal destination is perfect for celebrating a laidback holiday with nature, away from the usual city noise and crowd. Here, you can watch dolphins at Manjuyod Sandbar, go on a snorkelling tour at Apo Island or hike through Casaroro Falls.
After doing all sorts of water activities, make sure to stop by the city’s Christmas House. The doctor who owns this Spanish-style mansion is also an avid antique collector. For decades, he has been decking his home with lavish Christmas décor and lights to delight visitors.
- Tip: People often call Dumaguete as the University Town as it is home to four universities and several colleges. The first American school in the country, Siliman University, is the most popular. The school has a museum, zoo, marine laboratory and church that you can visit to learn more about local wildlife, culture and history.
Food is also the centre of our Christmas celebration. And if you’re after cheap but good eats, why not include Taiwan’s night markets in your holiday itinerary?