Little-Known Pinoy Christmas Traditions That May Disappear Soon
Christmas is the most joyous time of the year for Filipinos, that is why so many customs and quaint practices have been conceived around the holiday season.
Traditions like Noche Buena, Misa de Gallo and giving of aguinaldos continue to live on, but there are other local and obscure traditions that old towns observe that we know so little of -some vanishing, others forgotten, but all very Filipino!
During the nine-day midnight masses, the parish choir of Mabalacat in Pampanga performs Latin hymns like Kyrie (Lord, Have Mercy), Gloria (Glory to God in the Highest), Credo (Apostle’s Creed), Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and other parts of the Mass like no other choir does—with operatic flourish and high drama complete with violins.
The songs are collectively called ‘pastorella’ (from Misa de Pastores, Mass of the Shepherds) brought from Spain during colonial times but adopted by local musicians who made them more spectacular and melodramatic. The Spanish friars collaborated with our ancestors to come up with all sorts of gimmicks to make church services worthy alternatives to their folk practices, one of which was the pastorella.
The Misa de Pastores is still in practice in Spain, Portugal, and Mexico, where it is sometimes called Misa de los Pastores and Misa de Gallo (Rooster’s Mass). In the Philippines, however, there are just a handful of parishes where they still sing the pastorella —with the Mabalacat parish in Pampanga leading the way.
The use of band music to liven up Filipino Christmases has long been part of our tradition, but brass band music is never heard in Paracale. Instead, music is generated by children using bamboo flutes and trumpets, hornpipes and shell gongs—in place of expensive musical instruments.
This age-old custom, which dates back to the first discovery of gold in Paracale, is called “baca-baca.” It was aimed at coaxing the populace to get out of their beds and go on a celebratory mood.
Noisemakers are organized into a team in several streets, with the biggest group composed of 60-plus members. When the church bells sound the first call, the groups of children—following different routes, walk en masse and enter the church on time for the Mass.
Three times during the Mass, the children blow their pipes and horns in unison. Once their mission is accomplished, the children are treated to traditional puto, suman and bibingka.
There are several versions of the Maytinis festival around the country, most notably in Cavite and in Pampanga.
The term “maytinis” may have been derived from “matins” or evening prayers.
Kawit holds its Maytinis every Christmas eve, which involves the re-enactment of the Virgin Mary and Joseph’s search in Bethlehem, like the “Panunuluyan” (see # 4).
Opulent floats, depicting biblical scenes (Adam and Eve, Moses, Mary, and Joseph) are paraded on the street and culminates with the arrival of the blessed couple at the Sta. Maria Magdalena Church. Mary and Joseph are attended and welcomed by singing angels as they take their place in a giant belen or Nativity scene.
Maytinis in Pampanga is also held on Christmas Eve with the spectacular procession of holy images—patrons of every barangay, accompanied by colorfully lit lanterns of the most amazing variety.
Village choirs singing “Dios te Salve” accompany the faithful as they wend their way through the main streets of the town and back to the church. This tradition is still observed in a few towns and cities like San Fernando, Magalang, Mabalacat, and Mexico.