The Philippines is known for having the longest celebration of the Christmas in the world– which usually starts at the calendar steps into the month of September, the start of what we call -ber months. During this time, you can already expect the streets being lighted up with christmas lights and lanterns, locally known as parol. In the distance, you can hear the merry voices of children as they sing christmas songs from one house to another. The soft chimes of church bells echoes throughout the whole town. Indeed, the Christmas season is coming near.
Going inside the homes of Filipinos, families gather in the light of Christmas eve to enjoy the most-awaited Noche Buena feast. This Filipino tradition is a culmination of joy, history, and the rich tapestry of the Filipino cuisine, deeply rooted in its vibrant culture. For Filipinos, Noche Buena is more than a just a mere dinner, but a chance to reunite and celebrate Christmas with their loved ones on the Noche Buena table.
This holiday season, let’s unravel the history of the Noche Buena tradition and rediscover some of the Noche Buena dishes that has become part of this magnificent Filipino culinary experience.
The History of Noche Buena
The Noche Buena tradition in the Philippines can be heavily attributed to the Spanish colonization and spread in the archipelago (and some parts of Latin America). While the term noche buena means good night in Spanish, it holds a different meaning for Filipinos.
On the evening of December 24th, Filipino families gather around the table to enjoy a feast of dishes and desserts. It usually starts as early as ten in the evening (to make time for the midnight mass), but the usual time is when the clock strikes at midnight.
The feast emanates an atmosphere of joy and warmth, brough about by the echoes of laughter and quirky stories amidst sumptuous dishes. Family members capture every precious moment through photos, immortalizing the cherished moments. The traditional Filipino Noche Buena is an experience that goes beyond the sumptuous dishes and festive decor. It is a celebration of love, resilience, and the enduring spirit of the Filipino people—a testament to the profound connection between family, faith, and the joyous season of Christmas.
Noche Buena Celebration around the World
Now, let’s go over and see how noche buena is celebrated in different parts of the world!
In Spain the celebration of noche buena is like a mirror of our own, which is not surprising though as such feast is one of the many influences of the Spanish into our culture. There is the usual Christmas eve dinner that highlights dishes such as Pavo Trufado de Navidad, that somehow looks similar to our morcon, and Pularda Asada, a classic roasted fowl.
After enjoying the sumptuous meals, families gather and attend La Misa del Gallo, or the midnight mass.
Going into Cuba, they also enjoy a hefty meal of roasted pig– lechon asado, just like us!
Heading to Europe, particularly in Italy, one of the important highlights of their Christmas eve celebration is the Nativity crib scene wherein Italian houses display the Nativity scene as early as December 8th. But what’s interesting is that they only put infant Jesus in the manger on the eve of December 24th.
What are some of the Traditional Noche Buena Food?
What is noche buena without your traditional and favorite noche buena dishes? Let’s take a look back on the noche buena dishes that we all look forward to eating on Christmas Day when we were kids!
I guess we can all agree that spaghetti isn’t just a Noche buena staple but also an embodiment of Filipino celebrations overall. The Pinoy spaghetti, known for its tomato sauce with a sweet, tangy taste, is a Filipino classic dish. And don’t forget the hotdogs and cheese toppings!
This creamy and sweet pasta dish has firmly established itself as an indispensable staple in Filipino Noche Buena. The allure of Filipino macaroni salad lies in its unique fusion of flavors, as it seamlessly blends the creaminess of mayonnaise and condensed milk with the tanginess of pickle relish. The addition of colorful ingredients, such as grated carrots and pineapple chunks, not only enhances the visual appeal of the dish but also contributes to its festive and joyous character.
The star of the noche buena table, that is Lechon! This roasted suckling pig is known for its crispy skin and tender meat. Best paired with a special gravy made up of pork liver and some aromatics (some preferred it dipped in spicy vinegar with lots of onion), lechon is definitely a Filipino favorite during Christmas!
You know the common Filipino salad isn’t made up of real fruits, but from those store-bought canned fruit cocktail that are submerged in pineapple juice. The creamy sauce is a mixture of all purpose cream and condensed milk, blended together with the fruits and then stored in the fridge until set.
If you’re feeling a bit fancy, you can add some cheese cubes, nata de coco bits, or shredded coconut meat!
Similar to chicken cordon bleu, morcon is your typical rolled stuffed meat but instead of chicken, it uses beef. The stuffing is usually a mixture of chopped vegetables like carrots, hotdog or sausage, cheese, and a boiled egg.
Christmas ham, usually prepared by curing and then baking or roasting, is a staple on the Noche Buena table. It can be served hot or cold and is often glazed with a sweet and savory sauce.
Another highlight of the noche buena table, lumpiang shanghai is a Filipino all-time favorite, whatever the occasion is. Seasoned ground pork (or ground beef if you’re feeling adventurous) mixed with vegetables such as carrots and celery are wrapped in lumpia wrappers and then fried to perfection. Dipping sauces such as vinegar or ketchup are always ready on the side to enhance its flavor profile.
Queso de Bola
A great partner of freshly baked pandesal, edam cheese or queso de bola is a ball-shaped cheese that is usually enjoyed during Christmas season. You can easily spot one on the table with its shiny, bright, red wax coating!
Crema de Fruta
A classic Filipino sponge cake layered with custard, fruit cocktail, and gelatin, crema de fruta elevates your Noche Buena menu in an instant!
A traditional Christmas rice cake made from glutinous rice, Puto Bumbong is steamed in bamboo tubes and served with butter, sugar, and grated coconut. This kakanin is usually bought after attending Simbang Gabi or misa de gallo.
Keeping the Tradition Alive
The tradition of Noche Buena is cherished by Filipinos and embodies the essence of family, togetherness, and festive celebration. Families gather around the table on Christmas Eve to enjoy traditional dishes like lechon, ham, and macaroni salad, which create a rich tapestry of flavors, textures, and aromas that transcend generations. Filipino households are brought together during the most wonderful time of the year not just through food, but also through culture and emotions.
Each household contributes to the living legacy of Noche Buena by setting the table with familiar dishes and creating new memories. This ensures that the time-honored tradition remains a beacon of warmth and joy for generations to come. Merry Christmas from our table to yours!