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I’m Dreaming Of A Filipino Christmas

Titilaok Nov 28,2013 0 Comments

Behind The Sparkle of Traditional Filipino Christmas Décor

The Belen is a beautiful reminder of the cornerstone of every yuletide holiday in the Philippines – prayer, and the family.

The Belen is a beautiful reminder of the cornerstone of every yuletide holiday in the Philippines – prayer, and the family.

Words by: Mikhail Quijano

Tinsel and Trinkets With a Twist

The absence of a fireplace, chimney, or the proverbial white Christmas in no way deters the unshakeable Christmas cheer of the Filipino people. Santa figures riding sleds, reindeer prancing in line, red-and-green poinsettia blooms, boxes wrapped in glittery paper and shiny ribbons, twinkling fairy lights that brighten up every nook and cranny of houses – these common Western images of Christmas are as much a part of Filipino Christmas celebrations even without the snow.

However, creative Filipinos always make it a point to reinvent. Evergreen wreaths and Christmas trees take on a distinctly Filipino style in houses during the holiday season; as pine trees aren’t readily available across the country, Christmas trees are often made with synthetic materials. The bits and baubles that adorn the tree are oftentimes fashioned in materials found in The Philippines – “sinamay” ribbons (woven jute or abaca-and-tinsel ribbons) as well as angels and globules made with natural materials are usually used, giving these common items a distinct Filipino flare with the use of indigenous materials.

The Humble Belen

As the parol represents the Star of Bethlehem, another traditional Filipino Christmas décor is the Belen. Named after the Spanish word for “Bethlehem,” the Belen is one of the staple decorations in Filipino households during the Yuletide season. Featuring a tableau of the Nativity scene, the Belen is a set of figurines of Christmas’ most important cast: the blessed Virgin Mary and her husband, St. Joseph, lovingly gazing at the newborn infant Jesus swaddled in clothes and cradled in hay; the Three Wise Men, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; along with various barnyard animals and the occasional shepherd. The Belen is usually housed in a manger, with the star of Bethlehem shining down on the scene, and an angel of God proclaiming “gloria, in excelsis Deo” – glory to God in the highest.

The Belen can also vary in design, from artful images and paintings hung on walls, to simple tabletop ornaments done in wood, clay or other materials. They can also take on larger, life-size proportions, with some fitted with animatronics for motion such as in popular commercial centers like Greenhills Shopping Center. The animated Belens depict the story of the birth of Christ, reminding people of the true tale behind the holiday.

The presence of the Belen in the Filipino household at Christmas time is not just a staunch reminder of the religiosity of Filipinos, or even the heavy Spanish influence in the culture; the Belen is a beautiful reminder of the cornerstone of every yuletide holiday in the Philippines – prayer, and the family.

Star of the Season – The Parol

Of course, if there is one archetype that encompasses Filipino holiday style, it’s the iconic parol. Named after the Spanish parol, or lantern, the Filipino parol is a star-shaped ornament that represents the Star of Bethlehem – the cosmic light that led the three wise men to the humble manger where the baby Jesus was born.

Usually in the shape of a five-pointed star, with ornamental tails dangling from the two bottom-most points, the parol is hung over windows and doors, sometimes illuminated with bulbs. Made with a bamboo frame and colourfully adorned in either papel de hapon (Japanese rice paper), palara (colored foil), or cellophane, the parol was first crafted in 1928 by Francisco Estanislao, and was used to illuminate the paths of people going to the Misa de Gallo, the traditional daybreak mass for the Advent season.

Of course, with the Filipino’s love for all things bright and fabulous, the parol can also take on much grander forms. Some parols are made with kapis (capiz) shells, in large and ornate starburst patterns that come in a variety of colors and blinking, multi-colored lights. San Fernando in Pampanga is most known for its beautiful parols, with a yearly giant lantern festival that earned them the title of “Christmas capital of the Philippines.” Decorated even further, some parols go beyond just blinking bulbs, playing polyphonic Christmas tunes, lights a-twinkling to the beat of beloved holiday music.

Now, parols are hung over every post, windowpane, ceiling, and tree branch. You’ll know Christmas time is coming when everyone starts to put up these beautiful parols everywhere, making nighttime strolls across the country seem brighter than the milky way with its starry ornaments.
Whether simple and humble, or extravagant and elaborate, the parol, as an icon, brings to mind the creativity of the Filipino people, and ultimately reminds everyone to remember what the season is all about – the baby Jesus.

From commonplace, commercial materials refashioned with beautiful and indigenous materials, to truly iconic figures such as the parol and the Belen, Christmas time is a season not just to celebrate Christ and their loved ones but for the Filipinos’ creativity and passion as well. The holidays are always a chance for Filipinos to express their creativity by decorating their homes with anything and everything that represents their genuine cheer and delight for the season.

Of course at the heart of it all, these Filipino Christmas décor go beyond aesthetics and fanfare. Displayed in houses for months extending way beyond the usual holiday season, these iconic Filipino Christmas décor are a symbol of love and devotion. At the heart of every Filipino, each glowing parol warming the cooler nights is a quiet, warm reminder of what the season truly means – the birth of Christ the savior, and a time to celebrate and cherish the love of our dear friends and family.


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