The days are getting longer and the air is getting colder. You hear the famous Jose Mari Chan song almost everywhere you go. People are busy making their wishlists. That’s when you know that the most wonderful time of the year has come – the Christmas season!
Most people say that Christmas is the longest holiday celebrated in the Philippines, especially in Cebu. As soon as the “ber” months start, the spirit of Christmas will fill the air. After Christmas and New Year’s, Cebuanos begin preparing for the famous Sinulog festival.
That said, if you plan on celebrating Christmas in Cebu, here’s how you can make the festive holiday a little bit merrier.
1. Simbang gabi now, puto and sikwate later.
Attending “simbang gabi” (dawn mass) is one of the most distinctive Christmas traditions in the Philippines.
From December 16 to 24, people from all walks of life make an effort to attend dawn mass (which usually starts as early as 4 AM). Many Cebuanos believe that when they complete the nine masses, whatever they wish for will come true.
However, completing the nine dawn masses is a challenge. Having to wake up early and go out into the cold morning can be difficult if you’re not used to it. Even so, churches are still packed with Cebuanos who are devoted to celebrating Christmas the traditional way.
Worried about where to get food after mass? Outside the church, you’re more than likely to find food stalls and vendors selling the renowned puto and sikwate.
Puto is sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf that’s perfect when paired with sikwate. Sikwate is a hot chocolate made from pure cacao. This breakfast tandem is not just best during the holidays, but also all year round.
2. Lechon now, paksiw later.
Cebuanos enjoy sharing food with their family and friends. For them, it’s the main highlight of the holiday season. They believe that it’s an invitation to get to know people better.
If you’re celebrating Christmas with a Cebuano, you can expect to be invited to their home for lunch or dinner. One particular food staple that is always present at the table is lechon (roasted pig). Know that Cebuanos of all ages love to eat lechon.
That’s not all. Most households or guests can’t finish a whole lechon, and when that happens, they cook it and turn it into a whole different dish called paksiw.
Paksiw is your left-over spit-roasted pork (lechon) that has a sweet and tangy taste. It’s cooked with vinegar, garlic, onions, and black pepper. The ingredients also help the lechon last longer. Amazing, right?
3. Manito, Manita.
Manito, Manita is practiced by countless households, organizations, and cliques. It’s a gift-giving tradition that requires everyone to write their names on strips of paper. Or it could be raffled off to everyone involved.
The title “Manito” is given to the male gift recipient, with “Manita” being the female recipient. And as a rule, no one is allowed to say who they’ve picked as their “Manito” or “Manita.”
In certain circles, the gift-giving tradition is done at weekly intervals prior to December 25th, with some circles exchanging the gift every day or every other day.
4. Sing along all day long.
Do you agree that Cebuanos are good singers? Singing has always been an important part of Cebuanos’ lives. Karaoke is a thing here in Cebu, whether you sing along with your family, neighbors, or friends.
If you’re concerned about not having the best singing voice, Cebuanos don’t really care if you hit or miss the high notes. What matters is that you jam along with them and have the best time ever.
Other Ideas for Celebrating Christmas in Cebu
Looking for more ways to have a merrier Christmas? Well, the next thing you should do is look for go-to Christmas destinations that will get you in the holiday spirit.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Watch the Festival of Lights at Ayala Terraces.
The Festival of Lights usually starts at 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM, running at a thirty-minute interval. Shoppers and mall goers always look forward to when the lights begin to blink and change color. Whether they’re out enjoying a cup of coffee or eating dinner, they’ll get all excited when the music starts to play.
Hundreds of lights in various colors sparkle and synchronize with the Christmas tune playing in the background. You will find dozens of them hanging from the trees, branches, and even the railings.
The bright, colorful display definitely makes it more festive for everyone present at The Terraces, keeping Ayala Center Cebu a go-to destination during the holiday season.
Tip: To enjoy the light show, look for a good vantage point around three to five minutes before it begins.
2. Stroll around Pasko sa Sugbo.
This is an annual event in which Cebuanos gather at Fuente Osmeña to kick off Pasko sa Sugbo.
The event normally starts with the lighting of the giant Christmas tree, also known as the Tree of Hope, on December 1st. There will be live performances from various sectors and organizations that everyone can enjoy.
Food stalls will also be around for you to try some of Cebu’s best street food and delicacies.
3. Indulge in savory foods at Kasadya sa Lapu-Lapu Food Park.
Kasadya sa Lapu-Lapu Food Park offers mouth-watering dishes, from street food favorites to tasty snacks like takoyaki, sushi, and pizza.
You can indulge in the finest cuisine that the city has to offer, including shakes, juices, and other beverages that you can pair with your scrumptious meal.
Many stalls also specialize in pungko-pungko food service. “Pungko” is a Cebuano term for squat or crouch.
Pungko-pungko is a unique Cebuano dining experience in which you’ll be sitting on low benches, so you will be crouching while you eat. Common foods served are ginabot (deep-fried pig intestines), ngohiong, siomai, and other street food dishes.
The food park is only around during the month of December. So if you find yourself in Lapu-Lapu City, give the place a visit and enjoy an authentic food park experience.
As you can see, Cebuanos are big on celebrating Christmas. Whether it’s the food, a light show, or any other event in line with the season, they will find a way to get you in a festive mood.
Don’t miss out on any of the aforementioned traditions and destinations when you’re in Cebu during the holidays! Who knows, there might be even more events to look forward to once the “ber” months come around again. With that said, be ready to experience a merrier Christmas in Cebu!