“My mother told me stories of Misa de Gallo in the Philippines,” said Lynnette Ramos of Ewa Beach. “My mother Remy would get up about 3 a.m. with the rest of the family. They would walk to Saint Augustine Church for mass that started at 4 a.m. After mass they would have Filipino desserts like bibingka (rice cake) that families would bring or the church would also provide.
“It was a real sense of community and excitement. But also very serious, and the tradition that felt holy,” Ramos recalls her mom saying.
“In Hawaii, we go to midnight mass on Christmas eve, but we do not practice Misa de Gallo by going to mass for nine days. But I do the nine-day novena at home leading up to Christmas day, which is also a Filipino Catholic tradition,” said Ramos.
A novena is a prayer of the rosary in honor of the Mother of Christ that is usually done to receive special graces from God. Asking for healing (for oneself or someone dear) or praying for the soul of a departed are common novena petitions during Misa de Gallo and the Christmas season.
Pasko traditions practiced in Hawaii
While the Philippines is thousands of miles away, the Pasko traditions are very much alive and well in Hawaii’s Filipino community. Noche Buena, literarlly means “Good Night” but refers to Christmas eve, the art of parol-making (Christmas star lantern), caroling, and making Filipino desserts are some of the holiday customs being preserved and practiced.
A highlight of the Christmas season for Filipino families is the Noche Buena marathon of festivities that include having a sumptuous dinner, attending the midnight mass, then returning back home for more fun, bonding, and exchanging gifts.
It usually lasts from early evening to early morning around 2 to 3 a.m. But preparations for Noche Buena starts around noon on Christmas eve.
Instead of a turkey, the main traditional dish on Noche Buena is lechon or roasted suckling pig. In the 70s and early 80s, it was common for some Hawaii Filipino families to slow-roast a lechon in their own back yards. Usually, the lechon, which takes at least four hours to cook over an open pit fire, was prepared at the home of a family member who had the biggest and most private backyard. Today it is more common to preorder lechons and have it delivered the night of Noche Buena.
Along with lechon, two other celebrated Filipino dishes are must-haves on Noche Buena: pork adobo (pork slowly marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and black peppercorns) and pancit (Filipino noodles of many variations: rice, flour, or egg). Some other Filipino festive dishes are embutido (steamed, stuffed fish) and arroz caldo (very thick rice soup with chunks of chicken or turkey). The arroz caldo is usually served later in the early morning after midnight mass.
Noche Buena is also a time when Filipino mothers love to bake an assortment of desserts: leche flan, ube halaya, kutsinta, cassava cake, suman, bibingka, and for advanced bakers ensaymada or maja blanca. In the old days, only a select few mothers in the extended family would be bold enough and capable enough to prepare certain Filipino desserts. But the pool of bakers have expanded today with all the recipes easily accessible on the internet.
Filipino desserts are not made frequently in the year except during the holidays. So in a way, they have become associated with Pasko and is a big part of any potluck spread in the Christmas season, definitely, on Noche Buena.
Roland Casamina, CEO of House of Finance, Inc. and founding president of the FilCom Center, says his family celebrates many of the Pasko traditions.
Originally from Ilocos Sur, Philippines, Casamina describes his family’s Noche Buena. “On Christmas Eve, each member of our clan go to their respective in-laws for an early dinner. Some of us go directly to my parents’ house. After early dinner at the in-laws, the entire family meets up at my parents’ house where we have a late dinner.
“In many cases, we go to relatives homes and sing Christmas carols. Then we come back and just spend more quality time, play games. At midnight, we open gifts. Then have late snacks again.”
Casamina says Christmas is always his favorite time of the year. One thing he says he misses is going to Ala Moana Shopping Center to watch Christmas shows on centerstage. “Despite the crowd and fighting for a parking space, it was not stressful to me. It’s all a part of the Christmas shopping experience.
“But many of us don’t do this anymore. With online shopping, the younger generations do not go to the malls, instead they buy on-line.”
All about family
Just as in the U.S., in the Philippines flights are booked solid as people travel far distances to return home to be with their families for Christmas. Usually, Filipinos living in the cities would return to the provinces of their origin to be with their parents or grandparents who still live there.
Kaneohe resident Rose Cruz Churma said, “a tradition that has endured for generations is the family gathering at Christmas time. Family members from far and wide strive to come home for Christmas. That is the best gift ever—to be with loved ones during the Christmas season.
“Christmas means being with family and enjoying their company. It means being grateful for being alive—and recall the days that just zoomed by. It is sharing what you have, particularly ones’ time with those who need cheering up.”
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