Friday, December 01, 2006
Yuletide begins unofficially as soon as the 'BER' (yes, 'ber,' not 'burr') months come into being. Gusts of wind start to blow starting September, accompanied by rains brought about by the southwest monsoon. It starts right at the heels of the rainy season. The countdown to Christmas then begins.
Anticipation for the Christmas season slowly permeate the air. The shops, stalls and malls, big or small, start to lay out their Christmas wares - greeting cards, pine trees, trimmings, lights and lanterns. You may even find them alongside the past Halloween items, until the brief interlude ends. After the break, all the city streets, building facades, homes and backyards are spruced and spiced up as the country erupts with another festival of lights.
People now begin their treks to the malls, taking advantage of bargains and sales, mostly for gift giving and those new dresses, and new pairs of shoes that are a 'must' for the holidays. Even carnivals, with the latest amusement rides, fun games, magic shows and more shopping stalls, sprout like mushrooms in the city.
As early as Undas, families start decorating their homes with Christmas lights and lanterns, making their homes real-life Christmas trees, aside from the real ones inside them. Some play Christmas songs in their players, specially "White Christmas," because sadly, we Filipinos could only dream about it. In our country where temperature rarely drops below 15 degrees even in the coolest month of December, snow can and will never be seen anywhere: not even in Baguio.
One week before Christmas, some embark on a journey to their barangays or villages to sing some common christmas carols to their neighbors, with their improvised drums, and triangles in hand. We call them carolings, and of course the performers themselves, the carolers. Some do it as a group/club (like a church youth group) to raise money. Children do it more like a "trick or treat" for a few coins ("hihingi po ng aginaldo.."), five to ten pesos will make them joyous because of the fact you 'enjoyed' the performance that they rendered to you. Sometimes, you may even see them again singing in front of your homes perhaps because you gave them a 'reasonable' price the last time they performed in front of your doors.
Christmas parties are now also organized by groups of people in villages and schools, not forgetting to include the kris kringle (exchange gifts) in the event. Usually, only a certain number of people are invited in these parties, but more often than not, mobs of people come in, unexpectedly. Try to invite less than twenty persons in the party and you'd still have twenty more to come. Luckily, event organizers are prepared for things like this. Some of the people who come in bring their own food, to share with everybody, evidence of the spirit of bayanihan, which is still present in our hearts.
But actually, the 16th day of December marks the official beginning of the season with the Misa de Aguinaldo (Gift Masses) or what we commonly call the Simbang Gabi, usually held before the break of dawn. A nine-day long devotion lasting until the 24th, the simbang gabi is the test of dedication for the Filipinos who keep the tradition. After the mass, stalls of bibingka and puto bumbong, native rice delicacies are waiting for flocks of buyers of these 'Christmas-only' fares. Parents even use them to convince their kids to join them in their nights of prayer. When Christmas Eve comes, the midnight of December 24, People will once again fill the churches for the Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), when church bells ring amidst joyous strains of Gloria in celebration for the birth of our Savior.
After the mass, Filipino families immediately return to their homes to partake of the Noche Buena. It is a feast composed of the remnants of the Philippines' colonial past. Combine them with our very own native fares, and you'll have a very special treat for the family. Still, a simple meal will do just as well; afterall, being together has a greater importance than anything else. Many families take advantage of the occasion to organize reunions and other family affairs. Some relatives outside the country take the time (and money) to call their families for a heartwarming gift: their voices. They all come together to share in the laughter, nostalgia, festivities, and the meal itself. After the dinner, members gather around the Christmas tree to open their gifts. And by the time they retire, it is already into the early hours of the Philippines' hot, noisy, and long Christmas, December 25.
Well, at this age, I guess we shouldn't be waiting for Santa Clause to come in to our homes anymore.
*24 days to go until Christmas comes, one more hour and it will continue to go down to 23 days. :)