by Kattryn Erryc Sayo

The Christmas season or Yule is one of the most significantly celebrated events in the world that is both a sacred holiday and a universal occurrence. Every year in the 25th of December, people around the world have been celebrating it with various forms of traditions. For Christians, Christmas day is the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, their savior according to the teachings of their religion. While for non-Christians, it is merely a widely observed conventional and cultural experience.

As a wide-reaching occasion that is celebrated by billions, Christmas is observed through different ways. In the Philippines, wherein Christmas season is celebrated the longest in the world, popular customs include putting up Christmas decorations, exchanging gifts or Kris Kringle, giving aguinaldos, attending Masses especially the Misa de Gallo, and preparing for a feast like Noche Buena.

Beyond the Customs

The basic Filipino traditions during the Yule are felt as early as September. Filipinos have already been setting up decorations around their houses. Add to that is the enthusiastic preparation for gift-giving for children, relatives, friends, and inaanak. Lastly, Filipinos have already been considering what recipes to cook for the Noche Buena. But further than these common practices, are the simple yet heartfelt means of embracing Christmas.

For oldies like Samuel Malit, 63, from Mariveles, Bataan, Christmas need not to be celebrated extravagantly. At a young age, he had already established that even without a lavish banquet, as long as their family is complete, Christmas will be undoubtedly merry. He believes that family is the heart and essence of Christmas.

“Basta tuwing malapit na ang pasko, darating na lang ang mga kamag-anak. Nagbibigay ng kasiyahan sa isa’t-isa, sa mga apo at kabataan, lalo na sa pamilya,” Lolo Samuel disclosed.

“Pagdating ng buwan ng Disyembre, pinaghahandaan namin ‘yong pagdating ng pasko, nagsisikap para may mapagsalu-saluhan,” he added.

The same goes for Reynaldo Malit, 60, from Subic, Zambales, who grew up celebrating Christmas just simply. Other than that he also believes that Christmas is a day for family and for the youth. “Ang pasko ko kailangan buo at masaya ang pamilya,” he said.

“Nakikipaglaro ako sa mga kabataan, nakikipagkwentuhan. At nagbibigay kasiyahan sa mga bata dahil ang diwa ng pasko ay para sa mga bata,” Lolo Reynaldo added.

Another oldie whose Christmas is centered on family is Lydia Diwa, 63, from Lubao, Pampanga. She said that she welcomes Christmas day with her whole family. In addition, gift-giving is a tradition in their clan, even in her early years.

“Sama-sama sa bahay ang aming pamilya para maligaya ang bawat isa. At saka hinihintay talaga namin ang pasko kasi doon mo malalaman kung may magbibigay ba sa’yo, kung may nakakaalala ba sa’yo, kung may nagmamahal sa’yo. Kaya kami nagpapalitan ng regalo,” Lola Lydia said.

For Pedro Paule, 65, from Hermosa, Bataan, he spent his Christmas by visiting his relatives and friends. “Naglilibot kami noon sa mga ninong at ninang, pati sa mga matatanda para magmano. Ngayon gano’n pa rin naman, tumanda lang ako pero naglilibot pa rin ako sa mga kamag-anak at mga kaibigan.”

Religious Practices

Aside from the old customs attached to celebrating Christmas, religious events and gatherings are also an anticipated occurrence, especially for the devoted Christians. The most popular are the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi, and the Panunuluyan, or the reenactment of Jesus’ birth.

The SImbang Gabi is the Mass ceremony during dawn, starting from December 16 until Christmas. The practice shows devotion to God and the anticipation for the birth of Jesus Christ. A traditional belief states that God grants the wish of a person who completed the all nine Masses.

Mary Ann Llanes and Romelyn Bautista, both 19 and from Plaridel, Bulacan, share that they had both completed the nine days of Simbang Gabi.

“Nakakumpleto na ‘ko Simbang Gabi. Sabi rin kasi nila kapag nakumpleto mo, matutupad ‘yong wish mo. Natupad naman ‘yong wish ko na maging ok at safe ang family,” Llanes said.

Both ladies had also performed interpretative dances during the nine-day masses, together with other active Church members. They are also members of the choir. “Sa mga misa sa bisita, sumasayaw kami, kunwari Mass songs sinasabayan naming ng interpretative dance,” added Llanes.

Aside from Misa de Gallo, another popular Catholic tradition is the Panunuluyan. As part of the Teatro de Santiago, a group of active youth Church members, Llanes and Bautista had been a part of the reenactment of Christ’s birth last 2011.

“Last year lang kami nakasali. Do’n sa simbahan (St. James, Plaridel), ginaganap ‘yon tuwing Christmas eve,” said Llanes.


Sense of the Season

As time goes by, the ways Christmas is celebrated had been modified. But then, in spite of the modernization that altered the simple means of observing the occasion, the essence and spirit of the season remains the same.

“Ang pinagkaiba lang naman ‘yong simple naging bongga. At ‘yong masagana dati, pwedeng mahirap na ngayon ang selebrasyon. Pero bukod do’n, ang diwa naman ng pasko eh nando’n pa rin hindi naman nawala, ang unawaan at kasiyahan, at ang pagkilala at pagsamba dahil kaarawan ito ni Hesukristo,” shared Lolo Samuel.

Lola Lydia left a very moving statement with tears as she said, “Kahit kulang at kapos na sa pera ngayon para makapaghanda ng masagana, parehas lang na kapag pasko sama-sama ang pamilya at nagkakasiyahan. Naniniwala ako na ang pasko ay nangangahulugan din ng pag-ibig, pagmamahalan ang mga tao, laging nagbibigayan upang maipakita ang pagmamahalan sa isa’t-isa. Kahalagahan din ng pasko ay ang pagpapatawaran sa isa’t-isa. Kaya makikita natin na araw-araw pwedeng maging pasko.”

These statements prove that Christmas is not about the amount of money we acquired, the quantity of the presents we received, the exquisiteness of the clothes we wore, the colorful decorations we set up, or the loads of delicious meals we prepared and ate. What matters most is that in that special day, we appreciate our life, we realize the value of ourselves, our family and our friends, we share our blessings, and most of all, we spread hope, forgiveness, joy, peace, and love.

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