Drumbeats. Hands raised in the air. Feet stomping. Warm bodies dancing. Lively crowd of believers.
This is the usual sight and sound one will see and hear just outside the main portal of the church, at the patio, in the town where I temporarily live. The Catholic community of the town is eagerly participating in the novena in preparation for and in celebration of the Feast of Sto. Niño, the feast honoring the Holy Child, certainly one of the more famous feasts in the Catholic liturgical calendar in the Philippines. In fact, cultural festivals are held to celebrate this religious feast. And some friends I have known here enthused that there would be more dancing and glees come the day of the feast itself. Should I look forward to it? I reckon I should, if only to witness how people find joy in their faith, hopefully.
And this brings me to recall some of the best lessons and discussions we had when I was still doing my Tradition and Magisterium class at the Loyola School of Theology, under Fr. Danny Huang, a very intelligent and friendly Jesuit. No, I will not be theologising highly in this article. There may be another time and space for it. But I will focus more on how the feast affects people’s lives, and faith, as I see it through an outsider’s lens. The songs, especially the gozos, and the concluding hymn of the Eucharistic celebration speak of the people’s faith and undying belief in the protective and providing presence of God manifested in the little child.
I have always been traveling for the last fifteen years or so. And I had been brought to a lot ofdestinations, from the north to the south, the west and the east of the country. I have also been abroad, and these travels gave me new bits of knowledge and information and taught me valuable lessons. And most of the times, I learn it from ordinary people.
But one thing that really fascinates me about us Filipinos is our penchant for carrying with us a lot baggage. For instance, in my most recent trip back to Mindanao, in the check in queue, I was next to a young lady who had with her a couple of oversize boxes, a number of plastic bags, another couple of traveling bags, a number of hand-carried luggage and a backpack. Honestly, I wasworried for her. I could not imagine myself traveling in such circumstance. I always travel light. And I realize that it is common to people to travel with a lot of baggage.
But in all those travels, I have always been amazed, fascinated, and even intrigued by one sight- by people or travelers who bring along with them can(s) of biscuits. It used to be cans, but they have been transformed into plastic pails. Certainly, you have seen similar sight. When I used to travel by bus to Bicol from Manila years ago, people bought those biscuits because they sat on the biscuit cans when the buses were overloaded, especially on peak seasons such as Christmas and Holy Week. For this utilitarian reason, I could understand the phenomenon.
It is nice to be back after the break. By intention, I did not write during the height of the season. Firstly, because I might be more romantic, and I might have seen the season in more romanticized way. Secondly, the readers might also see the season to be more romantic and, for others- nostalgic. So here I am writing long after the ‘high’ of the season has been gone.
I had the fortune of spending and celebrating my Christmas season and welcoming the New Year in quite a number of places- up north, in the megapolis and in mid-south. These places gave me quite enriching experiences and realizations.
It is my first time to spend a Christmas day in a farm- with rice fields all around the hut, fruit trees, chicken roaming all over the place, livestock on the pens, hammock under the gigantic bamboo shade. What a simple but lively day, spent with laughter and joy of telling stories and sharing our dreams. It was a day spent in close communion with people I love and who love me. It then dawned on me that perhaps it was a way of reminding me of another aspect of Christmas that we often forget- the simple yet fulfilling experience of beholding and welcoming the Saviour born in Bethlehem. In my long years, I have attempted to theologize Christmas (partly, because of education), but little did I try to ‘humanize’ Christmas.