Why do Filipinos celebrate Christmas for four months?

The Philippines, which is a mainly Catholic country, is known as the only one that ushers in festivities from September

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - December 25th, 2017: St Joseph's cathedral's Christmas Open house. Monday, December 25th, 2017 at St Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Dubai resident Vana Sprott has started dusting off an unassembled fake pine tree to usher in a four-month-long Christmas tradition.

“As soon as the 'ber months' hit, it's the start of the Christmas season for us,” she tells The National, referring to the last four months of the year, which end with “ber”.

Sprott, who has been in Dubai for almost seven years, is just one of the millions of Filipinos in and outside the South-East Asian country who start yuletide celebrations as early as September.

“We would start putting up the Christmas tree and other decorations, playing Christmas music and thinking about the parties we are going to host and attend,” she says of her family in the Philippines.

“Some may think it's silly, but we do it anyway. It's unique and heartwarming, and it ultimately brings us joy.”

The mainly Catholic country is known as the only one that celebrates Christmas for an extended period.

Mariah Carey, the singer behind the holiday hit All I Want for Christmas is You, acknowledged it in a recent post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“I’ll allow it for my Filipino lambs, though,” she wrote in response to news that her Christmas song received 316,000 streams on Spotify last Friday.

Families typically start by putting up Christmas lights, and gradually build up the decorations closer to December 25.

People selling handmade parols or ornamental lanterns swell in numbers on the streets, and carolers start going door to door as early as November.

There have been many suggestions as to why this is the case. Filipinos' penchant for Christmas is rooted in Catholicism and the many religious traditions the country practises during the season.

Christmas has become a crucial occasion for Filipinos who work overseas, which the government said number about 1.8 million in a 2021 census.

Many of these migrant workers, including a significant portion from the UAE, would use their annual leave over Christmas to reunite with their families.

This grand homecoming could offer an explanation for the months-long anticipation of the holiday, said Filipino sociologist Clifford Sorita in a 2018 report by NPR.

He said the “ber” months provide a “psychological time clock” for Filipinos, who are expecting a busy Christmas calendar with family and friends.

Sprott SAYS the extended festivities “allow us to fully immerse in the spirit of Christmas, which is all about being grateful, being kind, getting together with friends and family and ending the year on a positive note”.

Belle Briones, also a Dubai resident, says: “Good things happen during Christmas, so if we can have it for longer, why not?”

Briones says the community aspect of the celebration is most notable. The Christmas season creates a “warm and cheerful atmosphere at home, but also within neighbourhoods”.

For some Filipinos abroad, the “ber” months are a poignant reminder of the distance they have to travel to provide a good life for their families at home.

Those who cannot travel over the holidays make it up by increasing their remittances.

According to data from Hubpay, a money transfer application, remittances to the Philippines increase to about 40 per cent during the fourth quarter and peak in December.

Sprott says she grew up “loving the feeling” of the months-long countdown to Christmas, and being able to open gifts only after the clock hits midnight on December 25.

“I want to continue this practice even as I grow older,” she says, adding that it comforts her knowing she is still part of a family tradition despite being thousands of kilometres away.

Updated: September 05, 2023, 10:01 AM