MANILA, Philippines - Christmas, a holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus, is "the most wonderful time of the year," as an old song goes.
The occasion, usually characterized by festive decor and lots of food, is observed on December 24 (Christmas Eve) and 25 in most countries.
Here in the Philippines, however, celebrations start as early as September 1. Because of this, our country has earned the distinction of having the world's longest Christmas season, which lasts for at least 115 days (festivities usually continue after December 25, and may extend until February of the following year).
Streets decorated with colorful lights, trees and lanterns, as well as Christmas carols played all day long are a common scene in the Philippines in September, especially in Metro Manila.
Businesses, too, have made it a point to gear up for the Christmas season with their respective gimmicks and offerings.
Here are some of them:
SM Mall of Asia, one of the biggest malls in the country, is prepping up its 5-storey recreation center called Cosmic Kidz.
The amusement park, said to be the largest in the Philippines, boasts of high-tech games, toy stores and interactive booths for kids and adults alike.
Theme park Enchanted Kingdom, on the other hand, is readying its artificial snow for those who wish to experience a "White Christmas" in tropical Philippines.
Of course, Christmas in the Philippines is not the same without the traditional COD (Christmas on Display) show.
The moving mannequin play, which has provided free entertainment to Filipinos for decades, is currently set in front of the Greenhills Shopping Center.
The show used to be done at the facade of COD, a mall in Cubao.
A new 'parol'
Meanwhile, different kinds of decorations for sale abound with the start of the Christmas season here in the country.
One of the most popular among them is the parol (Philippine Christmas lantern), which is usually made of paper, bamboo or the more expensive capiz (seashell).
Recently, however, innovations include the production of parol made of fiberglass. Orly Gepte Jr., a parol maker, noted that the government has discouraged the production of capiz lanterns since it depletes our country's natural resources.
"Fiberglass ang naging alternative namin (Fiberglass has become our alternative)," Gepte said in an interview at ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda.
He added, "Capiz is out, fiberglass is in."
Gepte noted that a lantern made of fiberglass can last for as long as 15 years, and is very durable. It is, however, slightly more expensive than the already pricey capiz parol.
When shopping on a tight Christmas budget, meanwhile, one can turn to flea markets and bazaars for bargains.
One famous "Paskuhan" destination is Dapitan Arcade in Manla, which sells cheap Philippine-made Christmas decorations.
A set of 10 small capiz parols sells for P250 here while Santa Claus figurines made of resin and fiberglass can be bought for P700 to P1,500 each.
Christmas here in the Philippines won't be complete without food, whether these be traditional or a fusion of different cuisines.
Irma San Miguel, owner and manager of catering service Kusina ni Kambal, said old favorites include noodles and pasta, chicken galantina (stuffed deboned chicken) morcon (stuffed beef roulade), turkey, spareribs and roast beef.
Filipino dishes are also included in most dining tables, such as bibingka (rice cake) and puto bumbong (steamed glutinous rice).
"Kapag Pasko, ang pinakamadaling choice ng pagkain ay ang traditional (During Christmas time, the easiest choice when it comes to food is to go traditional)," San Miguel said.
Steve Tamayo of Tamayo's catering, for his part, noted that some Filipinos prefer to be a bit more adventurous for their noche buena (Christmas Eve meal).
"Meron din na gusto ang (Others want) contemporary and fusion, from food to setup," he said, adding, "Either way, we'll make a menu according to your budget."
Abs-cbnNEWS.com wants to know, what have you done in preparation for Christmas?
With a report from ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda"