Christmas of my Childhood
By Rudy Arizala
The most remembered date in my hometown of Infanta in Quezon province, is Christmas. During my childhood, mother would start buying live chicken a month before Christmas and put them inside a “tangkal”, a long bamboo cage for fattening. Nanay (Mother) would request someone to fatten a “paiwi” (young pig under the care of somebody) to be butchered at Christmas. She would store or collect eggs for making cakes, cookies and “kinakaw” for Christmas. In addition, Nanay would contract somebody to make “pasingaw”, a sticky rice cake also to be served on Christmas.
Misa de Gallo
Christmas day is preceded by a nine-day misa de gallo (the hour when the cocks crow at dawn). We call it “aguinaldo” in Infanta. What is the origin of holding mass at dawn when it is still dark?
During the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V decreed that in the Philippines, predawn Masses would be held starting the 16th of December in keeping with the nine-day festivals of Filipinos in celebrating special occasions. It was also intended to give Filipino farmers a chance to go to Mass before starting work in their farm. Filipinos, as a matter of custom and due to the weather, start the day early — hours before sunrise.
Thus, the people of Infanta, like Filipinos elsewhere in the Philippines, start celebrating Christmas from Dec. 16 to Dec. 25. This continues for 12 days more from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6, the feast of the “Three Kings.”
At noche buena (Holy Night), that’s on 24 December, we attend the midnight Mass. During said mass our attention was focussed on a huge paper lantern made of bamboo sticks and “papel de Japon” in the shape of a star with a lighted candle inside, which from the main entrance door of the church is moved by strings and tiny pulleys towards the ceiling above of the main altar where the priest celebrate mass. As the huge paper star lantern moves slowly towards the altar from the maine entrance door of the church, the choir chants Christmas carols.
After the noche buena mass, the whole family gathered together at home to partake of after midnight snacks consisting of native delicacies such as “pasingaw,” “kinakaw”, “tamales”, as well as pansit, lechon, fried chicken, ham, apples, grapes, chestnuts, cookies, cakes, “pan de molde”, queso de bola and more. All houses were decorated with star-shaped lanterns hanging on windows with multi-colored lights. Children, youngsters and adults exploded firecrackers.
On Christmas day (Dec. 25), our dining table was laden with various kinds of food —embutido, morcon, meat loaf, lechon, tamales, native cakes, cookies, kinakaw, cheese, ham and a variety of fruits — oranges, grapes, apples and chestnuts. Those who came to the house were offered food or something to drink. At the corner of the living room was a Christmas tree made of “agoho” (wild pine tree which grow abundantly along the coast of Quezon province).
On that day, we, children, visited our relatives, aunts and uncles, ninongs and ninangs (godfathers and godmothers) to greet them a Merry Christmas and kiss their hands (“mano po”). Likewise, all the godsons and goddaughters of our parents would visit them to kiss their hands saying, “Mano po Ninong, mano po Ninang.” Nanay and Tatay would give them money and something to eat and drink after the “mano po” ritual.
Of course children preferred coins or paper bills instead of the food and drinks offered them. Their standard reply was “Salamat po, mayroon din po sa amin” (Thank you, Ma’am, we also have the same food at home), or they would say, “Busog pa po kami” (We have just eaten).
Extended Christmas Day for Adults
The following day, relatives and friends visited each other while the young men and women held parties or went on picnics either at the beach banks of river under shady coconut trees.
Christmas celebration, as stated above, continues for 12 days more up to Jan. 6, the feast of the “Three Kings.” We celebrate the feast of the “Three Kings” or magi because according to the Holy Book they, guided by a bright star, found the place where Jesus was born and offered gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The story of the “Three Kings” undoubtedly inspired the practice of gift-giving or exchange of presents we have today on Christmas.
Wherever I am, when the early mornings become colder and the various radio and TV stations start playing Christmas carols and music, it means that the month of December has arrived and I could not help feeling that childhood nostalgia how Christmas was celebrated when I was a growing up kid with my brother and sisters in Infanta, “when grass was greener, life, simpler”. . . when the focus of our attention was the Infant Jesus amidst the lighted paper lantern in the shape of a star and singing of Christmas carols reminding us the host of angels message: “peace on earth and to all men of goodwill.”
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