Merry Christmas = Sádyà Nga Surapô; Happy New Year = Malipayong Bag-ong Tuig

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Merry Christmas = Sádyà Nga Surapô; Happy New Year = Malipayong Bag-ong Tuig

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The old Sugboanon Bisayà word for a celebration with gift giving is surapô.  It is a combination of the words surá, which means lively rhythm and pô, which is an address of respect of the divine.  We still use the word “pô”  in “pohón”.  We say, “Ugmà pohón. = Tomorrow, God willing”.  Sometimes when a Boholano will go into the dark to relieve himself he will say “Tabì pô. = Excuse me divine spirit”.

When the Spaniards introduced Christmas in the Sugboánon speaking regions they did not use the apt word surapô for the reason that our “pô” is not the same as Jesus Christ.  They introduced the inapt word “pasko”.  However, in some languages in Luzon the word “pô” or “póon” is still used to refer to a saint or even Jesus Christ.



The word pasko comes from the Spanish word “pascua”, which means paschal or Passover.  The “Last Super” of Jesus Christ and his disciples was a paschal meal celebrating the Passover of death that was the last plague of Prophet Moses in order to be allowed to leave Egypt.  The word pasko is supposed to be part of the terms to be used during Holy Week to refer to the Last Supper.

In the 1852 and 1885 “Spanish – Bisayà Dictionary” of Fr. Juan Felix de la Encarnacion, the word “pasko” was still equivalent to “pascua” or the Paschal meal or the Last Supper.  The Spanish word for Christmas was “Navidad = Nativity”.

In the 1928 “Bisayan-English Dictionary” by Fr. Patrick Rafferty, S.J. the entries are “Pasko sa pagkabánhaw = Easter” and “Pasko sa pagkatáwo = Christmas”.  The meaning of “Pasko” got transferred from the Passover meal to that of Easter.

In the 1974 “Velazquez Spanish-English Dictionary” by Mariano Velazquez, the Spanish word “Pascua” is translated as a.) Passover, b.) Easter; c.) Christmas, as a metaphor.  The Spanish word “Navidad” is still Christmas but “Pascua” is now accepted as a metaphor.

The 1995 “Diccionario De La Lengua Española” by the Real Academia Españla has already many meanings of Pascua and Christmas is among the definitions.

Language Evolution


At first Pascua or Pasko was used by the Spaniards to mean the Last Supper.  However, they also introduced the Nochebuena or the supper during Christmas Eve.  It also became known as a Pasko.


To distinguish the two suppers, one was labeled as Pasko sa Pagkabánhaw and the other as Pasko sa Pagkatáwo.

However, during the religious rite of the Last Supper what became significant was the ceremony of washing the feet of the disciples by Jesus Christ.  The Bisayan term for this ceremony is “Pamúsà”.  The meal became secondary. So the Pasko got transferred to resurrection day or Easter as Pasko sa Pagkabánhaw.  It soon got shortened to Pagkabánhaw.  Since it will always occur on a Sunday it soon became known as Domingo sa Pagkabánhaw and the word “Pasko” got sidelined.

Now the “Pasko sa Pagkatáwo” no longer had a competitor.  It got shortened to Pasko and became the equivalent of Christmas.


All the while the Spanish language also evolved.  After hundreds of years it eventually accepted that Pascua or Pasko, which means Passover, can also mean Christmas as a metaphor.

Evolution of Culture


In the concept introduced by the Spaniards, Christmas is a religious activity.  When the Americans took over, they changed the educational system to follow the American way.  In school the Americans introduced so many concepts and cultural practices not practiced by the Spaniards.  For example, the Americans introduce the use of a Christmas Tree during Christmas.  It was not practiced during Spanish times.  Since the Americans did not care about native languages but only English, until now nobody has created a Bisayan word for “Christmas Tree”.  The garland, which was the main decoration during Spanish times is lukóng in Binisayâ.

The Americans introduced Santa Claus and Christmas Parties where gifts are given.  Soon the “Christmas Season” got commercialized and transferred to months before December 25.  The religious “Christmas Season” is from December 25 to January 5 the next year and January 6 is the celebration of the “Three Kings” or Epiphany.

It’s Already a Surapô

The emphasis of today’s Christmas is the celebration of joy and happiness.  Parties are held and gifts are given.  Only very few are conscious of the religious significance.  Those who are religiously inclined are complaining that Christmas is already commercialized.

Since it is already the present culture I suggest that we use Surapô to refer to the commercialized Christmas, and Pasko for the religious aspect of Christmas.

In the religious schedule of Christmas (Dec. 25 to Jan. 5) the New Year, which is another event, is traversed.  So we also greet “Happy New Year = Malipayong Bag-ong Tuig”. (By Jes B. Tirol)

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