September marks the beginning of the Christmas season in the Philippines. Yes, you’ve read this correctly. I remember when I first experienced this phenomenon back in September 2000.
I was on vacation visiting my wife in the Philippines. It was the second week of September.
We were married in Manila in January 2000. My spousal immigration visa application from the United States hadn’t been processed and approved yet. (Thankfully, my wife joined me at our new home in Central Illinois two months later.)
We had been shopping at a SM Mall.
September 1: Philippines Christmas Season Begins
As we rode down the escalator of the SM Mall, I thought I heard Christmas music blaring from inside the shopping center. I was confused as a goat on AstroTurf. How could this be? It was only September. Back in the States, we don’t hear any Christmas music at the malls until December. Thanksgiving marks the beginning of our Christmas season in the States. What was going on?
My wife explained to me that in the Philippines, the Christmas season kicks off on September 1st or the start of the so-called “BER months” – more than three months before the actual Christmas day.
Not only do Christmas songs start playing in the malls in September but also on the radio. Christmas lights and decorations begin going up. (We actually put up our Christmas tree the first week of October now.)
The Catholic Connection?
Rappler.com explores the reasons for the early start. They begin with a rationalization which I first considered, that Filipinos are mostly Catholic. Approximately 84% of the population consider themselves Catholic.
However, the Advent season or the preparation for the Nativity of Jesus Christ actually begins four Sundays before Christmas day. Sociologist Brother Clifford Sorita wonders if there is a particular event in history that started this tradition?
Nope. Even after extensive research, no one can say, said Bro. Sorita. It was just something that was practiced in Filipino households. Filipinos have always been a festive people. They love grabbing the opportunities to come together as a family to enjoy a lavish spread of food on the table.
So Maybe it’s Just a Marketing Stunt?
So is Christmas in September just a marketing stunt? A tradition invented by malls and manufacturers of ham. “This tradition is not created by malls. Malls and brands only respond to people’s behaviors,” Bro. Sorita explains.
The Rappler story goes on to quote Ed Timbungco, corporate communications consultant and PR professor at De La Salle–College of St. Benilde:
“It may appear that malls have a huge influence on the extended celebration of Christmas in the Philippines. It makes sense that these retail outlets would capitalize on the practice to generate increased demand for toys and other gift items that we often buy during the Yuletide season.”
“But it’s more than just a marketing stunt. Filipinos supported the extended observance of Christmas because we are really suckers for anything that will allow us to celebrate and spend more time with our loved ones.
Santa, as portrayed by our niece April
So Why Start the Christmas Season so Early?
So why do Filipinos begin their Christmas season September 1?
It turns out, the answer lies within the Filipino.
“The most simple explanation for the Philippines’ long Christmas season is our psychological framework to count down the days to big celebrations,” said Bro. Sorita.
“100 days until Christmas start on September 16th but we, Filipinos, we always like to start celebrating earlier.”
“By knowing exactly how much time we have remaining to complete a task, instead of stressing about it, we will be able to better allocate our time. In fact, a 100-day countdown also acts as a secondary motivator and reinforces us Filipinos to complete our Christmas tasks before the big day.”
In other words, our brains are hardwired to think of the months ahead of Christmas as a chance to buy gifts, to put up the Christmas tree and other decorations, to plan the Noche Buena, and to schedule Christmas parties.
The Crusty Old Expat will start his Christmas shopping this month of September. While I’m retired with plenty of spare time on my hands, I hate shopping during the months of November and December when the crowds become too massive for the grumpy foreigner. Thus, I go Christmas shopping early.
Plus, here’s one important tip for you guys out there: Don’t buy your wife any clothes. There’s only a 30-day return policy at the SM Department Stores and my wife invariably never likes any clothes I pick out.
More Wisdom from the Professor
Most importantly, Filipinos use this time to get together with family, friends, and colleagues they haven’t seen all year over good food just like how their ancestors did. Probably the reason why this tradition has been successfully passed on from generation to generation.
“We celebrate Christmas the longest, first because we don’t want happy moments to end. We look forward to family gatherings and reunions so we can make up for lost time. Celebrations are very much a part of our psyche as fiesta-loving and I don’t see anything wrong with that,” said Prof. Timbungco.
With 18 public holidays every year and a fiesta for each of the 144 cities and 1,490 municipalities in the Philippines – The Philippines, are indeed, a nation of celebrations.