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The Philippines Has the World’s Longest Christmas Season

A mall-shop worker putting up Christmas décor might seem an ordinary sight in December, November, or even October—but it is August in the Philippines. This majority-Catholic nation has been heralded for the world’s longest Christmas season, typically spanning from September to January or February, depending on the date of the Lunar New Year.

While American Christians lament the “Christmas creep” beginning around Halloween, the majority of Philippine society begins playing Christmas tunes and lighting up the streets at the start of the -ber months: September, October, November, and December.

Glowing Christmas star–shaped lanterns and belens—the physical representations of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus by the manger—are put on display. The colorful lights can be seen almost everywhere, from the poshest subdivisions to the humblest shacks.

For the country’s faithful, the extended public Christmas celebration—fueled by commercial forces more than Christian devotion—can both enhance and detract from “the reason for the season.”

Several major economic shifts from the late 1990s helped to alter the Christmas calendar. Money is pouring into the country from Overseas Filipino Workers ($11 billon in just four months in 2021) and the explosion of call centers in the Philippines (over $26 billion each year). Another factor is the rise of shopping malls. Cultural anthropologist Felipe Jocano says, “The malls are probably how the Christmas season became longer—to encourage the family to spend. The economy became a factor of cultural change.”

So, beginning in August, stores begin to decorate for Christmas. With a bit of a wink and some Christmas cheer—and with a real economic undercurrent that has implications for the Christmas message. All these stores are trying every trick in the book to get people to spend.

Pastor Chad Williams of the Union Church of Manila sees all of this as an opportunity for speaking more openly about Jesus’ incarnation. “The season is far larger for us. How do we use the belens? How do we talk to our neighbors about the incoming incarnation of Christ when they start putting [the belens] up? I want to explore how to use it.”

Possible Preaching Angle:

The holiday season in the Philippines can be fertile ground for spreading the Word to people who just might be more open to it. This can also be true in the U.S. if we can move the seasonal message away from spending and toward the Savior.

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