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The country that celebrates Christmas for more than 4 months a year

Jacob Scott

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In the centuries-old carol “The 12 Days of Christmas,” celebrations span less than two weeks.  

Today Christmas is regularly celebrated throughout December, and in some places, a good portion of November too. 

But four months of festivities in the Philippines gives new meaning to the term “holiday season.”

The ‘ber’ months

Christmas is celebrated during the “ber” months, as it’s called in the Philippines — that is, September, October, November and December, said Robert Blancaflor, president of the Manila-based events design company Robert Blancaflor Group.

“Christmas is the longest celebrated season in the Philippines and … our country celebrates it the longest globally,” he said. “Can you imagine a whole nation willingly sharing warmth and love … this long?”

“Everywhere you look here is just pure Christmas,” said Robert Blancaflor, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, adding he’s “glad to be living in such a joyous country.”

Courtesy of Robert Blancaflor

But the parties don’t end in December.  

“Christmas fever starts on Sept. 1 and ends the first week of January,” said Marot Nelmida-Flores, a professor of Philippine studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

This is, however, “a recent phenomenon,” she said. And the reason why is a familiar one.

Commercialization of the holiday

“With the proliferation of shopping malls, first in metro Manila which later on mushroomed far into the provinces, Christmas carols started to be heard soon after All Saints Day [on] Nov. 1,” said Joven Cuanang, a neurologist and respected art and culture enthusiast in the Philippines. “This was to attract people to start shopping for Christmas gifts — it was commerce-driven.”

Retail stores pushing out Christmas-themed merchandise earlier than in the past is responsible for so-called “Christmas creep” in many countries. A significant difference is that while others condemn the practice, Filipinos largely embrace it.   

A Manila vendor sleeps among Christmas “parol,” or lanterns made of paper and bamboo that are shaped to resemble the Star of Bethlehem.

NOEL CELIS | AFP | Getty Images

“Filipinos start to make parol, or Christmas lanterns, as early as September,” said Nelmida-Flores. “Now, many parts of the islands have their own trademark parol and Christmas theme plazas and parks.”

Families reunite

Another factor which adds to seasonal cheer, said Nelmida-Flores, is the return of the “balikbayan” — the estimated 2.2 million Filipino citizens who work abroad, according to the Philippines Statistics Authority. Overseas Filipino workers sent nearly $30 billion dollars back to the Philippines in 2020, which represents nearly 10% of the country’s total gross domestic product, according to data website Statista.

A sculpture in Manila pays tribute to overseas Filipino workers, many of whom are parents who spend years away from their children and loved ones to earn wages to financially support them.

JAY DIRECTO | AFP | Getty Images

That likely won’t happen this year. Many of the overseas workers, who live in places like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong, aren’t traveling this year due to the global pandemic.

Marites Rheme Lopez Javier, who has been living and working in Singapore for 18 years, hasn’t seen her family in the Philippines since 2019. She plans to celebrate Christmas with them, including her first grandchild born last month, via video chat.

Javier said radio stations begin to play English and Tagalog Christmas songs in September. This is also when decorations — including Christmas trees — go up. Festivals and beauty pageants, a controversial yet wildly popular activity in the Philippines, start in October, she said.

L: Ramiro Hinojas, known as the “dancing traffic cop” directs Manila traffic in a Santa Claus costume; R: Marites Rheme Lopez Javier said Santa isn’t as popular in the Philippines as in other countries. “It’s the aunties [female relatives] who slide money into kids’ stockings.”

L: TED ALJIBE | AFP | Getty Images; R: Courtesy of Marites Javier

She said as a child her family made their Christmas tree from manila paper and cardboard. Now, inexpensive plastic trees are the norm in her village.

When asked if she feels there’s “too much Christmas” in the Philippines, the 45-year-old native of Luzon island said, “No, we enjoy it! It’s a very happy time.”

Shifting celebrations earlier

The Peninsula Manila used to light its 45-foot Christmas tree in early November, but “we’ve moved it a tad earlier to the second Friday of October,” said Mariano Garchitorena, the hotel’s director of public relations.

He said “there’s no reason for delaying Christmas, since Christmas is always a good idea,” adding that this is what “any good Filipino, like myself, would say.”

The Peninsula Manila’s staff starts planning for Christmas in June, said Mariano Garchitorena.

Courtesy of The Peninsula Manila

The hotel includes al fresco dining in its holiday plans “to take advantage of the nippy weather,” said Garchitorena. The average temperature in Manila in December is 25 C (78 F), according to Climate-Data.org.

Nina Halley, founder of the Manila floral and décor company The Love Garden, said she starts receiving Christmas orders in July.

“Philippines is very much influenced by the West, particularly the U.S.,” said Halley. “So the same pines and cypresses, pinecones and dried oranges are heavily used in our décor. Believe it or not, we import fir trees … from Europe.”

A nation of faith

Religion is the foundation of the Philippines’ long festive period, said Blancaflor, adding that “the country is celebrating [its] 500th year of Christianity” this year.

Some 92% of people in the Philippines are Christian, according to the Stanford School of Medicine. Among the population of 110 million, more than 80% identify as Roman Catholic — a figure greater than that of Italy.

Some 88% of Filipinos said they were very or moderately religious, according to a 2020 survey by the Philippines social research institution, Social Weather Stations.

Catholics who attended nine days of pre-dawn “Simbang Gabi” masses in 2020 had to socially distance or attend sessions virtually in some areas, due to the global pandemic.

Ezra Acayan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Many of the devout engage in the tradition of Simbang Gabi, a nine-day period of pre-dawn mass attendance that lasts from Dec. 16 to 24, said Blancaflor. The practice is thought to have been introduced by Spanish missionaries in the 17th century.

This used to mark the start of Christmas, said Cuanang, who recalled participating as a child: “Every dawn for nine days, we would huddle in the chill, going to church, culminating in the midnight mass on Christmas Eve.”

Joven Cuanang said when he was growing up in Ilocos in Luzon, children went house-to-house singing Christmas carols in exchange for tupig, a type of sweet rice cake, like the young Filipino carolers, circa 1955, shown here.

Evans | Three Lions | Hulton Archive | Getty Images

Back then, celebrations were only about three weeks long, he said.

“Most people of my generation find the four-month period a little too long,” said 81-year-old Cuanang.

What so much celebrating says about the culture

“Filipinos are a happy people,” said Halley, who added that her fellow citizens will find “any reason to celebrate and prepare food, gather around a table, sing, dance and be merry.”

Nina Halley and her “Pink Roses Christmas Tree” arrangement, made with roses, carnations, gypsophila (baby’s breath) and eucalyptus.

Courtesy of Nina Halley and The Love Garden

Blancaflor said the Christmas season highlights the best traits of the Filipino people: hospitality, generosity, creativity and dedication to family.

Most importantly, he said, Christmas showcases the culture’s devotion to helping one another.

Poverty levels climbed to nearly 24% earlier this year, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. That translates to more than 26 million people who live below the poverty threshold of 12,082 Philippine pesos per month ($242) for a family of five.

Linda Abella, 63, fixes the decorations on her Christmas tree outside her house in typhoon-hit Palo, Philippines on Dec. 23, 2013.

Ezra Acayan | NurPhoto | Corbis News | Getty Images

The country, comprising some 7,100 islands, is also prone to typhoons. On average, it’s hit by 20 a year, five of which are destructive, according to the Asian Disaster Reduction Center.

“Filipinos are quick to respond and channel the Christmas spirit to urgently [help] affected people above all else,” said Blancaflor. “One of the most beautiful things about the Filipinos [is] being able to smile through the downside of life and still be thankful amidst obstacles — knowing there will be a better day.”

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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