(I wrote this article for the Mothers and Darlings Support Group (MADS) for expats in Manila.)

1. Immerse yourself in the Filipino Christmas Culture.
Nine days before Christmas, a lot of Filipinos attend Simbang Gabi (the early morning mass) as a novena and to prepare themselves for Christmas Day. Filipinos stay up late, waiting for December 25 to come around, to celebrate Noche Buena with family and friends, culminating in the opening of gifts.

2. Enjoy the Christmas Cleaning.
The week after Christmas is actually an ideal time to get things done because most people will be traveling outside Manila. This is the best time to purge your files, or do some cleaning and renewal in your work. This is the most laidback period because you are already relieved of gift-giving responsibilities and people are still on holiday mode.

3. See the Giant Lanterns Festival in the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.
The most celebrated festival during the Christmas season can be found in San Fernando, Pampanga. Various barangays compete for the honor of having the best and biggest giant lantern display in the country. The lanterns are at least 18ft in diameter and are operated manually to light up and dance to upbeat music.

4. Pamper yourself in Tagaytay.
Most people travel to Tagaytay to experience the coldest month in the country. This is the best time to hike to see the Taal Volcano, eat a sunset dinner at Antonio’s, and chillax at the cozy boutique hotels. The best ones are 8 Suites, The Boutique, T-house, The Inn at Cliffhouse, and Meteora.

5. Explore the Santa Claus House in Antipolo.
Kids would love to see Casa Santa, a Christmas-y house full of Santa Claus-inspired collections. Since you are already in the area, check out the best Swiss restaurant in the country — Vieux Chalet. Also, make an appointment to see furniture artist Benji Reyes’ place in Antipolo.

6. Entertain kids at Enchanted Kingdom or Manila Ocean Park.
Enchanted Kingdom is a theme park attraction located in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, just outside Manila. Most people go there during December because of the cool weather, interesting Christmas shows, and fireworks display.

Manila Ocean Park, on the other hand, is one of the biggest aquarium theme parks in Asia, located near Manila Bay. It is a nice place to explore at leisure. You can watch the special Christmas shows there or decide to stay at Hotel H2O so that you can really enjoy the place.

7. Avoid the malls and bazaar places from the 10th until Christmas Day.
Filipinos love to give gifts, and they also love to buy them during crunch time. Expect the heaviest traffic during the 12 days before Christmas due to all the holiday parties, Kris Kringles and reunions happening around this time.

8. Watch a local Filipino film.
Every year, local filmmakers compete in the biggest movie festival in the country, the Metro Manila Film Fest. Starting on Christmas Day, all local movie theaters would only show the movies taking part in the festival. The films shown don’t usually have subtitles, but watching them with locals could give you a peek into what Filipino movie culture is all about.

9. Explore Viaje del Sol in Laguna and Quezon.
Here is a recommended itinerary: Lunch tour at Villa Escudero; eat and shop at the best pottery garden place by Ugu Bigyan in Tiaong, Quezon; and then stay overnight at Hidden Valley in Alaminos, Laguna.

10. Escape to the beach.
South of Manila, the nearest beaches are the private beaches of Kawayan Cove, Tali Beach and Punta Fuego in Nasugbu, Batangas; Playa Calatagan in Calatagan, Batangas; Hamilo Coast and the resorts in Laiya, Batangas. North of Manila, the best beach resort is the private Anvaya Cove in Subic. Nothing beats just relaxing on the beach and spending time with your loved ones.

Live an Awesome Life,

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Disclosure: Nothing to disclose 🙂

P.S. please contact [email protected] to reserve your slot for the December 18 Ultimate Pampanga – Ligligan Parul tour.