Christmas offers many examples of the mixture of cultural influences that make the Philippines rich and unique. Being a language blog, let’s start with the word for Christmas: Pasko. Sharp-eyed readers will notice that Pasko is a cognate of Spanish “Pascuas”, which refers not to Christmas, but Easter. How did that happen?
“Pascua” comes from Latin “pascha”, which came, by way of Greek, from Hebrew “pesach” (Passover). During the centuries when the Philippines were exposed to colonial Spanish culture, the Spanish used the term “pascua” not just for Easter. It was applied in the broad sense of “observation” or “festival” to four Christian celebrations: Christmas, Epiphany, Pentecost, and Easter. Christmas was “la Pascua de Navidad”, and in the shortening that happens in all languages and places over time, the Spanish opted for “Navidad” while Filipinos went with “Pascua”, which required only a tweak to become Paskua in Ilocano and which became Pasko in Tagalog and Cebuano. So the word “Pasko” can be something of a faux ami; sort of looks like Easter but means Christmas.
Lest we think this idiosyncratic, remember first that in Europe and the Americas, while most languages (even Finnish and Basque!) have adopted some local form of “pascha” for “Easter”, speakers of English and German still call this solemn Christian observance (Gr. Ostern) by the name of a pre-Christian pagan goddess, Ostara. That’s idiosyncratic.
Pasko in the Philippines traditionally begins on December 16 with a series of nine masses called Simbang Gabi, which, if you attend all nine with a special prayer, your wish is granted. Snag: the masses start at 4 a.m., and you can’t miss one. You didn’t think getting your wish would be that easy, did you? Good news is that breakfast comes after the masses (in other months, it’s the masses who go after breakfast), and that’s my segue to our first book give-away.
In Miki Garcia’s The Filipino Cookbook, you’ll learn how to put together traditional Pasko morning refreshments such as Bibingka (coconut sponge cake), Chicken Tamales, Filipino Hot Chocolate, and Salabat (Ginger Tea). For the Christmas meal itself, families gather for a Noche Buena menu that may include Hamon (glazed ham), cheese, litson (Sp. lechon) pork, lumpiang spring rolls, pancit guisado (fried rice noodles), and other Filipino treats.
Whether you speak a bit of Tagalog or are new to the language, you may want a little practice before mingling with your Filipino-speaking family or friends. Look no further than the second free book in our give-away this week: Tagalog for Beginners. By UC Berkeley’s Joi Barrios, a multi-talented writer and educator affiliated not just with Berkeley, but who also served as Associate Professor and Associate Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters, Tagalog for Beginners is the #1 selling introduction to Tagalog today. The author/editor of more than a dozen books, Barrios received in 2004 the TOWNS (Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) Award in the Philippines. In Tagalog for Beginners, Barrios has combined her expert knowledge of contemporary Filipino language with her years teaching the language in the US.
The book is available online and also from specialty independent bookshops such as Arkipelago Books in San Francisco and Philippine Expressions in Palos Verdes, CA. Tagalog for Beginners includes 32 practical lessons in contemporary spoken Filipino for both the newcomer and heritage learners with some prior experience speaking Filipino. The book includes a free audio that will help perfect your pronunciation and listening comprehension. To win this set of both The Filipino Cookbook and click Tagalog for Beginners, click here to email me and put “Pasko” in the subject line.
Visit every Friday for a chance to win. Maligayang Pasko!