Filipinos love to celebrate! Throughout the year they will find any excuse to hold a feast in order to prepare delicious foods and socialize with friends and family. Of all the annual events that are an occasion to celebrate, the most conspicuous event of the year is the town festival called fiesta in honor of the town’s Catholic patron saint.
As a result of almost four hundred years of work by Catholic missionaries, the Philippines is the largest Catholic country in Asia and Filipinos have embraced their Catholic beliefs and customs, especially the annual fiesta. The day’s festivities start at the crack of dawn, when a band plays music while walking the streets of the town, awakening the whole village. Richly embroidered tablecloths are spread and tables are set in preparation for the day’s feast.
The culinary centerpiece of the celebration is the beloved Lechon, a whole pig stuffed with rice and roasted slowly over a charcoal pit. The sight of this distinctly Filipino fiesta food will immediately conjure mouthwatering childhood memories for all adult Filipinos.
Another time for food and celebration is All Souls’ Day when Filipinos visit cemeteries to pay respects to their deceased loved ones. All through the night of November 1st, Filipinos eat, sing, and gossip—while large amounts of food and drink are passed around and over tombstones.
This same celebratory ethos applies to funerals, where refreshments are provided for everyone in attendance and there is a sense of communal gaiety. Typical meals eaten on these days are Pig Blood Stew (Dinuguan), Steamed Rice Cakes and Sautéed Bean Thread Noodles. The biggest national Philippine celebration is Pasko, or Christmas.
Filipinos do not confine the celebration to December but will start as early as September when they begin hanging Christmas lights and singing Christmas carols. They even continue the celebration past Christmas and make the first Sunday of January the official end to their holiday reveling.
From the 16th of December through Christmas Eve, Filipinos celebrate Simbang Gabi, a Filipino version of Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), a nine-day celebration held at four in the morning on each day. An integral part of Simbang Gabi is the availability of refreshments from local street vendors.
Sleepy and hungry churchgoers can enjoy Coconut Sponge Cakes, Purple Rice Cakes with Coconut Shavings (Puto Bumbong), Chicken Tamales, Filipino Hot Chocolate and Healthy Ginger Tea (Salabat) as a part of the celebration. As Christmas Eve becomes Christmas morning, family members gather to share a festive Noche Buena meal of Glazed Christmas Ham with Pineapple, cheese, lechon, Spring Rolls (Lumpiang Shanghai), Fried Rice Noodles, Barbequed Chicken Skewers, Fruit Salad, Chicken Macaroni Salad, and other dishes.
Finally, New Year’s Eve provides another chance for family to gather around a table of celebratory foods. This meal is called the Media Noche and is served just before midnight strikes.
Filipinos believe that plenty of food on the table means a year of plenty for everyone in the family. Twelve different fruits, especially round ones like grapes and chicos (or sapodilla, a brown berry with a sweet and malty taste) that resemble money, are displayed to invite prosperity for the coming year. Other Filipinos believe that eating twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve will ensure a year of good luck.
If all of this isn’t enough, many Filipinos get married in the months of December and January providing yet one more reason to cook large amounts of food and gather together with family and friends for a celebration. Essentially, Filipinos love any reason to eat and enjoy each other’s company!