Sourced from the Intercontinental Manila holiday brochure (author unknown):
As early as November, Christmas carols fill the air and multi-colored parols (star-shaped lanterns made out of paper and bamboo or capiz shells), garlands of twinkling lights, Christmas trees, belens (Nativity tableau) and other holiday ornaments liven up homes, shopping malls, buildings, and streets in the Philippines where the longest Christmas celebration in the world is observed.
Christmas Day in the Philippines is ushered in by a nine-day novena of dawn Masses starting December 16. Known as the Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass) in Spanish or Simbang Gabi (Night Mass) in Filipino, it is considered as the most important Filipino Christmas tradition. The practice dates back to the Spanish colonial period when priests held Masses at daybreak for farmers who wanted to attend Christmas Mass but could not leave their fields. Today, Filipinos attend the Misa de Gallo as an expression of their devotion to God and as a novena to obtain special graces.
A custom related to the Misa De Gallo is the selling of traditional food by vendors outside churches to the faithful who would either eat these on the spot or for breakfast at home. These delicacies are bibingka (rice flour and egg-based cake cooked using coals on top and under) and puto bumbong ( a purple sticky rice delicacy steamed in bamboo tubes then topped with muscovado sugar and coconut shavings). Salabat (hot ginger tea) and tsokolate (thick Spanish cocoa) are the favorite accompaniments.
Noche Buena is the traditional Christmas Eve feast at home after the December 24 midnight Mass. Family members dine together on queso de bola (Edam cheese), tsokolate (hot cocoa) and hamon (ham). Presents are opened at this time too.
Panunuluyan is a street pageant usually performed after dark on Christmas Eve. Actors re-enact the journey of St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary in search of lodging for the soon-to-be-born Jesus Christ. At pre-designated houses, they would chant a traditional folk song to wake up the owner of the house as they ask for lodging. They are turned away by the owner, also through song. Finally, the actors portraying Joseph and Mary make their way to the parish church where a manger has been set up. The birth of Jesus is celebrated at midnight with the Mass together with th hallelujah and Christmas chants.
Christmas Day (December 25) is primarily a family affair. Kids usually pay their uncles, aunts and godparents a visit. At each home, food and gifts are offered. A sumptuous lunch with the family is in order followed by gift-giving and a talent show by the children.
New Year’s Eve (December 31) is marked with Media Noche, a midnight meal symbolizing the family’s hope for a prosperous New Year. The sky lights up with fireworks. The noise of firecrackers, car horns and banging pots and pans fill the air to “drive away evil spirits.” Amusing folk beliefs encourage kids to jump at the stroke of midnight so that they would grow tall; displaying circular fruits and wearing clothes with dots to symbolize money; opening doors and windows during the first day of the year to let in the good luck; and eating 12 grapes at midnight for good luck in the 12 months of the year.
Christmas officially ends on the Feast of the Three Kings (Tatlong Hari) which is the first Sunday after New Year. Some children leave their shoes out so that the Three Kings would leave behind gifts like candy or money inside.