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The Philippines boasts to the world that it celebrates the longest Christmas season of any country...anywhere! The holiday begins on December 16, with hanging of outdoor Christmas lanterns fashioned from paper and bamboo. At the same time, nativity scenes and other decorations are placed in most every home with much fanfare. Families begin attending daily Mass at 4:00 a.m. to ask for the blessing of Mary and the baby Jesus: the services are known as "rooster masses" because of their early start time. Even in school, Christmas is the focus of many lessons, with youngsters creating art projects and practicing their spelling by writing "Merry Christmas" and other holiday words on the chalkboard. The children also learn about sharing with those less fortunate: there are frequent gift giveaways in Manila's poorest quarters throughout the holiday season. Celebrations do not conclude until January 6, the day of the Epiphany: a full three weeks of Christmas! "Philippino Santa Claus" plays a starring role in this 21-day festival, bearing gifts for everyone. For tradition, he wears a furry red jacket and cap and a long, white beard, but in keeping with Philippino weather, his pants are clamdiggers and his footwear is a pair of bright red thong sandals. Oh yes! and his wreath is made of tropical flowers: what a colorful sight!
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