As Christmas draws nearer, everything around us goes into hyper drive. Everything is decked out in sparkles and lights, carols give you last-song syndrome and the figure of Santa Claus shows up everywhere. It’s so easy for a small child to think that Christmas Day is simply the day that Santa comes and brings his/her gift.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the big guy, the bright red suit, and his jolly Ho! Ho! Ho! Like many parents, I enjoyed sitting down and helping my kids write their letters to Santa. But as parents, we also have a responsibility to make sure that these kids understand there is more to this holiday season than just new toys.
Not that there is anything wrong with children getting excited over their gifts, but it’s never too early to start teaching them about what the season is really all about, and helping them discover the other joys that Christmas brings.
One such joy that Filipinos always indulge in, especially during this season, is the joy of sharing. Actually, you can always count on the Pinoy to share, no matter what time of the year it is. When we pass one who is eating, almost always we can count on them to invite us (“Kain tayo”) to partake in their meal. (I often wonder how they would react if I actually sat down and seriously dug into their meal, but I digress.)
During Christmas, the business of sharing gets really serious, with orphanages and children’s wards being fully booked for Christmas parties and gift-giving.
The spirit of sharing comes alive as well when tragedies strike our nation. Last year, it was “Sendong,” and this year, it was “Pablo.” Donations to the Philippine Red Cross, parishes and other reputable institutions immediately poured in from everyone. Today, assistance continues to pour in as the victims of Pablo still need your help to get their life back in order.
Among the many things they can learn to share this season, aside from goods and money, are their prayers. There are many things they can pray for, including the families of victims of senseless shootings.
Some kids may be too young to comprehend the gravity of the situation or the reality of what the people they are helping may be going through, so you may or may not explain what has really happened.
But in other less traumatizing situations, given a simple and appropriate explanation and the opportunity, kids will be happy to help in whatever way they can, and in the process, learn that this is not just the season for celebrating, but for sharing their blessings as well and remembering those who are suffering in the midst of this joyful season and hopefully, all year long.
Another great thing about the holidays is the way we celebrate it. To borrow our famous tagline, “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” And who can argue with that? Beginning from our habit of beginning the countdown as soon as we hit the “ber” months, to the many Christmas traditions we have, it’s no wonder everyone wants to come home for the holidays.
My all-time favorite is our very own Simbang Gabi, a.k.a. Misa de Gallo (“gallo” meaning rooster, and in remembrance of the said animal who supposedly witnessed the birth of Christ and was announcing it to the world at the crack of dawn) or midnight Mass.
Though waking up seems to get harder and harder with each passing year, once you are on your way, there is something sacred in the silence of the early morning as we make our way to church.
In the midst of the chaos of the holidays, it’s nice to be able to find time to be still (even if it is at 4:30 a.m.) and meditate on the sacrifice of our Lord, and be able to offer a little something in return.
Once you make it, you are greeted by joyful carols, a church full of families and cute young couples. (I always get kilig for them.) Though I see a handful of young children, perhaps this is a tradition best passed on to older kids.
My mom started taking me when I was in my first year of high school, and we completed the novena Mass for seven years in a row out of the nine years we went together. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to take along, as well.
And what is simbang gabi without bibingka and puto bumbong? Best served steaming hot, nothing says Maligayang Pasko! better than these treats, especially when shared with family and friends after Mass.
And speaking of family, with all the family reunions, isn’t it amazing to discover how half the town always turns out to be your tita, tito or cousin, while the other half turns out to be from your husband’s side? Everyone is a cousin, no matter how distant the degree may be, and they all come out in time for lechon and karaoke sessions at family reunions.
I once read a Filipino’s story about the time she lived abroad. Her foreign friends were amazed at how she had family everywhere in the country. Incredulous, they asked how this was possible, and when she explained how they were all related, they told her, “For us, what you consider family, we consider strangers!”
Maybe that is the secret to our Christmas joy—since it is best celebrated with family and we never seem to run out of relatives, the joy just keeps coming!
But the fun doesn’t stop in our homes! All over the country, different provinces have their own holiday celebrations such as the Giant Parol (Lantern) festival of Pampanga, which showcases the results of their 104-year-old tradition of lantern-making. Every year, the different communities compete for the honor of being awarded the “best lantern,” and to do so, try to outdo one another in terms of size and grandeur.
Not much further up north, there is also the Belenismo de Tarlac, a beautiful annual tradition and competition that features exquisite belen (Nativity scene) of all sizes.
For several months, the people of Tarlac, together with Isabel Cojuangco and her daughter, Dr. Isa Suntay, work tirelessly, using every ounce of creativity and inspiration they can get to create masterpieces that celebrate not just the Filipino talent, but the real reason for our celebrations, the birth of Jesus.
Inscribed before each belen are simple prayers written in Tagalog, Ilocano, Kapampangan and English, allowing the viewer to truly meditate on the scene before him. This year, there are about 128 must-see belen on display until Jan. 6.
Before I end this, I’d like to go back to the presents. In between the Christmas rush and the mile-long list that needs to be finished and sent out before the 25th, who has time to explain to a young child what the giving is all about? And more importantly, do we ourselves even remember why we give?
Admittedly, there are many reasons why we give. Just like Santa, some of us give because certain people have been good to us all year long, and we would like to show our appreciation.
We could also attribute it to our culture. Filipino culture seems to be one that is focused on giving. When a new baby comes over for the first time, he receives his pakimkim while the visiting godchildren receive their pamasko.
When loved ones travel abroad, we give them a going-away gift. While they are away, everyone looks forward to the padala, whether from home or for home. And when they finally come back, they bring a balikbayan box full of pasalubong.
But perhaps my favorite explanation is one I heard from our parish priest, Fr. Joel Sulse, during a recent homily. While the aforementioned reasons are perfectly acceptable and normal, there is one reason that is above all, one that comes from the very core of our being as Christians and that I would love to be able to teach my children.
“We are givers by virtue of our God who has given everything to us. We give because our God gives, and He has given us everything.”
And that’s something Santa can’t top.
Please continue donating to the victims of typhoon Pablo! Visit www.redcross.org.ph to see how you can donate.
Do you have any old toys that are still in good condition? Please send them to Unit 201, 2/F, Villa Bldg., Jupiter cor. Polaris St., Barangay Bel-Air, Makati City, so they can bring some Christmas cheer to the children of Compostela Valley. For more details, call 0922-8166148 or 0918-6101754