Tired of turkey? Join us for Christmas in the Philippines


With the enormous global celebration of Christmas 2015 approaching, our team in the Philippines set out to discover the peculiar habits and traditions of people in this fascinating corner of the world.

The onset of Christmas time means, for billions of people around the world, the customary dash to prepare decorations, food and presents to share with their loved ones.

From the United States to Uganda, Swaziland to Spain, it’s one of the human race’s most beloved and truly global celebrations.

We wouldn’t be market researchers if we weren’t spending the run up to the holidays geeking out over the cultural quirks and traditions peculiar to each region we work in. In particular, our team in the Philippines set out using our 3Sixty app to discover how people are getting ready to celebrate.

We chatted with 50 enthusiastic Filipino men and women, using short surveys, mini forums and personal messaging to learn about their Christmas plans and preferences. All were:

  • parents with 1-2 children
  • aged 28-45
  • from white-collar middle-income backgrounds
  • living in Manila.

Significantly, seasonal preparations in the Philippines can start as early as October, making Christmas in the Philippines among the world’s longest festive seasons. Conducting our survey in November meant that we caught people in the middle of their festive planning.

Christmas gift-giving in the Philippines

The religious culture of the Philippines is predominantly Catholic, with its estimated 80.1% Catholic population (according to the 2000 census) making it the third largest such community in the world behind Brazil and Mexico. As such, we weren’t surprised to see over half of those we chatted with plan to attend Mass on Christmas Eve, and a quarter on Christmas Day itself.

That being said, one can’t deny that a big part of Christmas is the giving of gifts. Filipinos this year are staying faithful to bricks and mortar retail outlets; the overwhelming majority opting to shop at department stores, Divisoria or similar thrift outlets and Christmas Tiangge shops.

While nobody we asked said they were shopping solely online this year, those choosing to do some online shopping favoured using their mobiles over desktop and tablet devices to make their purchases.

Online stores like Lazada are a favourite because they offer a variety of payment options including Pay Pal or cash on delivery for those reluctant or unable to pay via card.

When we looked at the total spend on gifts, we saw an average spend of around PHP7,000 (just under £100 or $150). It may come as a shock to our global audience to know that this covers, on average, between 18 and 19 people.

While that may be far less expense than many around the world are used to at this time of year, we can take comfort in some similarities. While a huge majority of those we asked were planning to give their loved ones clothing, this was also the type of gift they wanted to receive the least. So, when you unwrap yet another pair of socks this year, spare a thought for those around the world who are doing the same!

Meanwhile, top of the gift wish list for our participants are gadgets like smart phones or tablets, many are even dreaming of a new car or motorcycle. Another universal Christmas constant seems to be our hopes and aspirations outstripping whatever Santa might have in his sack.

Christmas dinner: Filipino style

Food is also a huge part of what brings families together at Christmas all over the world, and this is no different here where we saw only a handful of participants not choosing to spend the festive period at home.

You can take a look at our gallery page to see pictures we’ve been sent by our survey participants of their celebrations with loved ones and the kind of spread they’re looking forward to enjoying.

The difference between the Philippines and many other places around the world lies in just what they eat. Fancy spaghetti with your Christmas ham? Perhaps a festive hot dog? Pork and pasta dishes are a runaway favourite, with half of everyone we asked tucking into some variation of these.

Red wine, a long-standing favourite for family celebrations, wins out again at this time of year as the most popular festive tipple. Juices and sodas also performed well, either as an alcohol-free alternative or something for the kids.

Dessert tends to come in the form of colourful fruit salads or Buko Pandan, a Filipino treat made with young coconut, screwpine leaves and sweet gelatin.

A combined food and beverage spend of PHP10,000 (about £140 or $210) seemed to be the norm for our survey participants, which again works out a lot cheaper than the festive season some of us may be used to.

As well as the lower cost of living in the Philippines compared to elsewhere, this might also be down to the amount of food which is prepared by hand. Roughly half of those surveyed said they’d be preparing everything from scratch.

Season’s greetings from InsightAsia

Christmas 2015 in the Philippines is a rich, vibrant fusion of established traditions, big festive spirit and local flavour.

Looking ahead, with the rapid increase in smartphone penetration, we expect to see online gift purchase start to contend with retail bricks and mortar in future years, providing the notoriously erratic internet connectivity improves and online stores are able to offer great value and payment flexibility.

For now, it’s perhaps fitting that a time of year so steeped in tradition is one where people still do their shopping face-to-face and still cook meals by hand to be enjoyed by their closest loved ones.

What Christmas traditions do you keep up in your corner of the world? Do any of these insights particularly surprise you? Leave a comment and be sure to take a look at our gallery for a full range of uniquely Filipino festive snaps.

In the meantime, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and, from all of us at InsightAsia, have a very merry Christmas wherever you are.