Discover Philippines: The Melting Pot of Western And Eastern Cultures

Discover Philippines: The Melting Pot of Western And Eastern Cultures

Photo by Naruedom

A beautiful tropical country made up of over 7000 islands, The Republic of the Philippines is home to some of the friendliest, family-orientated people on Earth. Located on the Pacific Rim of Southeast Asia, the islands are abundant with breathtaking beaches, palm trees, and bountiful wildlife. 

With an average year-round temperature of 26°C, it is no wonder the Philippines is such a popular tourist destination. However, stunning scenery and perfect year-round swimming weather isn’t the only thing that draws tourists in from around the world. The country is so ethnically diverse that there are always exciting festivals and holiday rituals to behold.

Known as the melting pot of western and eastern cultures, the Philippines holds an incredible cultural belief system, many multi-cultural festivals, and interesting historical ethnic relations that shaped the country into what it is today and so much more.

Visiting the Philippines should be on all of our bucket lists. Keep reading to find out why.

A Country With “Bayanihan” or Community Spirit

Photo by Asife

The cultural belief system in the Philippines is centered around helping one another without expecting anything in return, often referred to as “Bayanihan,” which means “Community Spirit.” The idea revolves around making tasks easier so that they are completed quicker.

Along with a strong sense of community and working together, supporting family is undoubtedly the most important. Family always comes first for people in the Philippines. Unlike western cultures, even extended family from the third or fourth generation is treated like close family. Sometimes, close family friends are considered part of the family too and are treated as such.

Strong family values are a massive part of Filipino culture and with that comes immense respect for elders. A common practice in the Philippines to show respect to one’s elders is called “Pagmamano”, or “Po at Opo,” which is the practice of touching the back of an elder’s hand to one’s forehead. Even older siblings are respected and called either “Ate” for older sister, or “Kuya” for brother.

Above all, people in the Philippines stick together. Whenever anyone is having a hard time, be it a family member or a neighbor, the community comes together to do whatever they can to help.

Diverse Ethnic and Cultural Relations

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With some of the islands of the Philippines lying so close to Malaysia and China, the first people to inhabit the islands were said to have walked over via land bridges.

The first native people, called the Negritos, arrived on the islands 25,000 years ago, followed by immigrants from Indonesia, and then immigrants from Indo-China carrying bronze and copper to build rice terraces. After this, people from Malaysia arrived and introduced water buffalo as draft animals to help with heavy loads to build the country's agriculture.

Today, 95% of the native Filippino population are of Malay ancestry, and the last 5% are made up of Chinese ancestry. Along with the culture of the native populations, there is a strong Spanish and American influence on the country's culture as well.

The Spanish influence in the country is notable in the names of towns, streets, and even people, along with Spanish architecture. This influence is due to the Spanish colonization in the 16th century and is responsible for the introduction of Christianity in the country as well.

The Spanish rule lasted over 300 years and played a very big role in the development of the country’s culture, so much so that even the previous national language, Tagalog, is estimated to be made up of 20% Spanish words.

Photo by markandpor

With Christianity now the most popular religion in the Philippines, many western celebrations of Christian holidays, such as Christmas, have become an integral part of the country's modern-day celebrations.

The Christian population is over 90% throughout the islands, with just over 80% of residents identifying as Roman Catholic and the other 10% or so belonging to other Christian churches. Following Christianity, the second most popular religion in the Philippines is Islam, with at least 5% of residents identifying as Muslim.

Now, to wrap up just how diverse the country is, there are reportedly over 175 languages in the Philippines. Filippino, the national language, was formulated from Tagalog and other native languages. However, If you are visiting the country, don’t worry about a language barrier as English is the co-appointed national language due to the American colonization in the early 1900s.

The Fiesta Islands and The Longest Christmas in the World

Photo by Jaspe

With the rich ethnic diversity and complete religious freedom across the nature-abundant islands, there is never a dull moment during the lengthy and much-loved Christmas holiday season of the Philippines.

Throughout each year across the islands, there are thousands of festivals, locally known as “Fiestas,” most of which are of Christian origin. Each fiesta is held for its own reason. With over 7000 islands, and hundreds of towns and cities, each one with its own festivals, it is no wonder there are so many! The country has even earned the nickname, “The Fiesta Islands.

Photo by bortnikau

Celebrations across the country are held for many reasons, including the honoring of Saints, seasonal changes, and religious holidays, but one of the biggest celebrations of the year is Christmas. The Republic of the Philippines hosts possibly the longest Christmas celebration in the whole world, with Christmas spanning from September until January.

Photo by junpinzon

Christmas carols and decor can be found in shops from September onwards. Giant star-shaped lanterns called Parols, made of bamboo and Chinese colored paper, are also put up to represent the star of Bethlehem. This time is about raising the Christmas spirit in preparation for the formal Christmas celebrations.

Formally, the Christmas celebration starts on the 16th of December, where people attend the first of nine early morning or pre-dawn masses, called Simbang Gabi, with the last mass taking place on Christmas Day. During a Christmas mass, followers of the Catholic Faith gather in worship and perform ceremonies.

Photo by Pavlo Suharchuk

The final mass, on Christmas eve, celebrates the birth of Jesus and a ceremony of placing baby Jesus in the manger takes place. After this, family, friends, and neighbors partake in a massive midnight feast called “Noche Buena.”

Christmas then continues until the first Sunday of January, where the final formal celebration is enjoyed, called Epiphany. This celebration, also known as The Feast of The Three Kings, is in remembrance of both the three Wise Men who visited Jesus and the day Jesus was baptized at 30 years old.

If Christmas is your favorite holiday celebration, or you’re just looking for somewhere to enjoy the festivities, the Philippines is the ultimate fiesta destination.

Health Conscious Cuisine & Unique Dining Etiquette

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Food is one of the best ways to showcase the cultural diversity along the tropical islands of the Philippines. In Filipino culture, it isn’t considered a meal if it is not served with rice. Rice is the main staple served with almost every dish and is traditionally not eaten hot. All food is cooked on either gas burners or open flame and many dishes are left to cool completely before serving. However, many modern Filipino families choose to enjoy warm food.

Rice, the popular grain, is ground up and used to make sweet treats and pastries as well which are most commonly eaten in between meals as a snack. It is also always served with many popular Filipino stews including Beef Mechado, Chicken Adobo, and Oxtail Kare-Kare.

Seafood is another abundant food in the Philippines. It is cut up, fried, and served with vegetables as one of the main dinner options to accompany rice. However, in recent years locals have become more health-conscious and try to cook their meals with less oil.

For special occasions only, breakfast may include eggs and sausage, but traditionally it simply consists of leftovers from the night before which are generally not heated up. Whole roasted boar, or Lechon, is also very popular during special occasions, especially festivals.

Although the traditional cuisine of the country is health-conscious, western fast-food franchises are still available and loved by many. However, when it comes to eating french fries, Filipinos usually prefer their own traditional banana ketchup over the usual tomato sauce.

In the Philippines, the traditional practice of placing food in a banana leaf before eating is still common throughout the country.

Photo by dariolopresti

Banana leaves are also used in many dessert dishes, including Suman, a sweet rice cake wrapped and steamed in banana leaves and, Bibingka, sweet rice cooked in coconut milk and sugar baked on banana leaves then topped with caramelized brown sugar,  These are both also perfect for breakfast and snack time!

Being in the tropics, the Philippines is home to a plethora of delicious fruits. Along with the traditional fruits we are all familiar with such as bananas, papayas, coconuts and mangoes, there are many exotic fruits available on the islands as well. Some of these fruits include dragon fruit, mangosteen, jackfruit, kiwi, sugar apples, rambutan and many more! 

Carry a Piece of The Philippines

Photo by Matt277

With so many incredible festivals to witness year-round, the friendliest people to meet, stunning scenery and beaches to behold, and delicious cuisine to enjoy, every minute in the Philippines is one to remember.

Add this special country of islands to your bucket list and remind yourself of your tropical holiday with a beautiful pair of Gris “Grey” Pearl Earrings made by Rona, a local artisan in the Philippines. Each purchase helps provide food and basic provision for impoverished children in the Philippines.

Written by ShopatMAP