1. You start holiday celebrations in September.
Shops are all dressed up in holiday décor. Christmas songs start playing on the radio. The countdown to Christmas begins: only 114 days till Christmas.
2. And end them in January.
Your holiday decorations don’t come down until after the first Sunday of January, the Feast of the Three Kings. This is when the holidays are officially over.
3. Your school Christmas project was a parol.
Papa helps you cut up bamboo sticks and ties them together with rubber band or string to form the five-point star frame of the Christmas lantern. You lay the frame on red or green cellophane and trace around it. You cut out the pattern and glue it onto the frame. But all this looks basic compared to the intricate pattern Mama cut out for the parol’s tail. You always wonder how she makes it look so easy.
4. You take part in kris kringle.
You’ll have bunutan beforehand, where you blindly pick someone to be giving gifts to, your Monito or Monita. The first few days will be minor gifts: something soft, something long, something sweet or anything else you can think of. You excitedly anticipate the “exchange gifts” day — the major gift-giving day, the day when everyone reveals who their Monito or Monita is. You’ll be lucky enough to get something expensive like a toy. You’re out of luck if you get a mug, a piggy bank, or worse, towel and soap.
5. You go caroling around the neighborhood.
You go with brothers, sisters, neighbors, or friends. You shout “Namamasko po!” at the top of your lungs and sing your hearts out, not caring if you get the lyrics right to any and all of the Christmas songs you have lined up. When you’re done and no one comes out, you sing: “Thank you, thank you, ang babarat ninyo, thank you!” When someone does come out to give you coins or candies, you happily sing: “Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo, thank you!” But when you hear a dog bark and see it coming, you run as fast and as far as you possibly can.
6. You attend simbang gabi.
Belief has it you’ll have a wish granted if you attend all nine dawn masses from December 16 to Christmas Eve. So better get up early (and I mean really early) if you don’t want an earful from Nanay on not completing simbang gabi. The best part, though, is eating puto bumbong after mass. Muscovado sugar and butter melted over hot purple sticky rice topped with dried coconut meat more than makes up for that scolding you got from Nanay for waking up late.
7. You stay up until midnight for Noche Buena.
When the clock strikes twelve, you dig in to the Noche Buena feast spread out on the table. There will almost always be hamon and queso de bola and you will almost always love hamon and dislike queso de bola. After stuffing yourself, you wait impatiently for everyone else to finish so you can get your hands on those gifts under the tree.
8. You follow New Year pamahiin.
You have a dozen round fruits on the table. You wear clothes with circles or dots. You open all lights, doors and windows to usher in good luck to your home. You place coins on all window sills around the house. You make sure your wallet and pockets have money in it so you’ll have money all year round. You make noise with pots and pans and torotot. You jump and jump and jump, hoping to grow taller this year. It’s New Year. There’s no harm in believing, right?