Photos from City of San Fernando Pampanga, Philippines http://cityofsanfernando.gov.ph/
Christmas celebration in the Philippines is an altogether unique experience. But among the whole country, where is the best place to celebrate Christmas? In Pampanga of course! Dubbed as the Christmas Capital of the Philippines, Pampanga offers a distinct variety of activities. From the giant lanterns to age-old traditions and processions, here are four great reasons why Christmas is like no other in Pampanga.
Lubenas Pascu is a procession on the eve of every simbang gabi culminating to the Misa de Gallo on the night of the 24th. Lubena came from the word Novena meaning nine days. Every night after dinner, Kapampangans holds the Lubena for nine consecutive nights beginning December 15. At the head of the procession, a cross-shaped lantern is lit, followed by a lantern in the shape of a fish – the ancient symbol of Christ. This is followed by two rows of lanterns mounted on bamboo poles. Each row is made up of six lanterns for a total of 12 to represent Jesus’ twelve apostles. Following the lanterns is the beautifully decorated shoulder-borne carriage or wheeled carroza that bears the Patron Saint’s image. Behind the carriage is a giant lantern, bigger than all the others, to light the saint on the carriage. All throughout the procession, the singers trail behind the lantern singing Dios te salve (Spanish version of Hail Mary).
The pastorella is a set of liturgical Latin hymns sung by a choir during the dawn mass and accompanied by violins, bamboo organ, cello, and flutes and performed with the flourish and charm of an Italian opera. It is said that it was designed and intended to keep the faithful awake since although called simbang gabi, the mass is held at dawn for nine consecutive days before Christmas. Between the lubenas and the simbang bengi, Kapampangans deliberately choose to worsen their sleep deprivation as a sacrifice. The repertoire during the Dawn Mass includes the Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy), Gloria (Glory to God in the Highest), Credo (Apostle’s Creed), Sanctus (Holy) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). The Pastorella is held to honor the shepherds that kept vigil during the birth of Jesus Christ.
During Christmas, the extent of the whole Kapampangan culinary repertoire is showcased. Dining tables are usually laden with the best cuisines such as bringhe, lengua, galantina, asado, balo-balo, batute, and estofado among others. And note that they are known for not scrimping on ingredients. With its tempting looks, aroma and taste, the dishes are sure to make you agog, throw your diet out the window, and go on a food rampage. Add to these are the sweet delicacies that can awaken every sweet tooth — tibok tibok, turrones, Moche-Moche, Pastillas de Leche, silvanas, kalame, araro, puto seco, and many more.
A timeless tradition going on for almost 80 years, the Ligligan Parul or Lantern competition of Pampanga draws the crowd from far and wide. The lanterns are a kaleidoscope of colors, larger than life, adorned with thousand of twinkling multicolored lights.
Once a simple competition where the lanterns were made up of bamboo frames and japanese papers, it began to take on bigger and bigger proportion every year reaching to what it is today where more than a million viewers travel to see the magnificent lanterns of intricate designs and spectacular shapes and height.
Now, one big lantern is made by each town. These lanterns or parols are now the expression of the bayanihan spirit of every town in Pampanga, a cooperative effort where the able-bodied men of their barrios contributed in the construction which starts well-beyond three months before Christmas.
The Christmas colors of gold, silver, green, red, and blue mostly dominated the beautiful lanterns. It showcases not just the themes of love, peace, joy, but also images portraying the birth of Jesus Christ.
After the winner is announced, a street party featuring local bands and singers, with a chance to sample Pampanga’s best delicacies, caps off the night.