What to do in the Christmas Capital of the Philippines

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Planning an epic holiday barkada reunion? Want to spend some quality time with your family this Yuletide season? Come and experience Christmas in Pampanga. It isn’t named the ‘Christmas Capital of the Philippines’ for no good reason. It has a lot in store both for locals and tourists alike as it is the time of the year when Kapampangans express their devotion to their Catholic faith through their best shows. That includes unique traditions, quaint customs, colorful religious festivals, and delicious delicacies.

Below are a few exciting things to do in Pampanga this Christmas  

Buy locally-made lanterns and giveaways

The province of Pampanga becomes a thriving hub for ‘parols’ or handcrafted lanterns exuding kaleidoscopic color and light every year as the holiday season approaches. These works of art are made out of Capiz shells and other native materials.

Unknown to many, lantern making is a year-round affair in the province, especially in its capital city, San Fernando. If you want to hunt a good deal, the best time to go to San Fernando is from February to October.

You can also buy handmade Christmas toys from Guagua, which can be the perfect gift for your children. The folk art that thrived since the 50s makes use of wire and bamboo to fashion animal figures present during the birth of Jesus Christ. You may also find several domesticated animal figures, which will remind your children of the household pets you currently have. White ‘Papel de japon’ covers the skeleton frame mounted on four-wheeled wooden platforms. 

Watch festive holiday parades

Pampanga is well known for its Giant Christmas Lantern Parade. This annual festival which started in the 1900s is a crowd magnet. Thousands of visitors come to the city of San Fernando year by year to witness 20-feet lanterns compete for several titles on the Saturday before the Christmas Eve. 

Lit by about 5,000 bulbs, the kaleidoscope of rotating colors makes spectators think a well-funded group of computer programmers, technicians, engineers, electricians, and artists assembled each of them. In reality, they were put together by barrio men in their backyards using scraps and cheap materials.

The Majigangga of Sta. Ana, Pampanga is another exciting festival in the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. It is the Kapampangan version of the Higantes Festival in Angono, Rizal that features dark and evil-looking giant human puppets coming to the streets from December 16 to 25. They are supposed to be banished with the birth of Christ. It is influenced by Mexican tradition except that Kapampangans use the puppets as a symbol of evil, while in Mexico, they represent royal figures and saints. 

While you’re in the Christmas Capital of the Philippines, spend some time to watch the nine-day procession of holy images called Maytinis, and the animated Fish Lantern Procession of Angeles. The re-enactment of the search for lodging of the sacred couple called ‘Panunuluyan’ is also a beautiful show to watch. 

Listen to the Pastorela of Mabalacat

Christmas in Pampanga is incomplete if you don’t get yourself amused with the melodramatic performance of Our Lady of Grace Parish Choir of Mabalacat, Pampanga.  The group performs the songs Agnus Dei, Credo, Gloria, Kyrie, and more during the Simbang Gabi. It is complete with violins, high drama and operatic flourish. The songs are collectively called ‘pastorela’ which is derived from Misa de Pastorela or Mass of the Shepherds. Pastorela is also performed in Mexico, Portugal, and Spain. 

Hear the Serenata of Betis

Three of Pampanga’s best brass brands gather together in the Betis Church to compete in an unusual musical contest. The one declared winner is not the best-performing band, but the one that played the most number of musical pieces. And there’s a catch — no piece can be repeated.  The competition, which is held on the eve of December 30, requires each band to prepare their respective repertoires consisting of standards from US military bands, Broadway songs, Christmas songs, local folk songs, classical opera pieces, fantasies, and arias. Since the objective is to outlast each other, the event usually lasts until the wee hours.

Eat local food

It is this time of the year when Kapampangans showcase their best culinary offerings such as lengua, morcon, relleno, pochero, azucena, menudo, mechado, afritada, estofado, escabeche, asado, bringhe, and galantina. Make sure not to miss their delicacies as you can’t find them somewhere else. Try their famous suman bulagta, galang galang, sampelut, calame ubi or bico, bibingang nasi, araru, silvana, bobotu, tibuk tibuk, and sans rival.

Those are just some things you can do in Pampanga this Christmas season. Experience them now before they’re gone, and take your children with you to keep the traditions alive. 

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