Celebrating Christmas and New Year…The Filipino Catholic Family Way
By Lilian G. Comsti
Christmas is the time of the year in the Philippines when business is brisk brought aboutby the gift-giving needs of individuals and companies and the seemingly endless gatherings.
Christmas is also the time of the year when families gather to celebrate. But the modern-day diaspora of Filipinos, either residing abroad or toiling as OFWs, has made this impossible. Thanks to modern technology, those who cannot be home for Christmas can at least share with their loved ones the joy of this season despite the distance. As an ad of a telecommunications company says, “Malayo man, laging 2-gether ang pamilya ngayong Pasko.” Others send “balikbayan” boxes filled with presents for every family member, relatives, and close friends as their way of making their presence felt even in spirit.
What adds more color to this season of joy is the Catholic tradition of “Simbang Gabi” – the nine-day Masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and in preparation for the commemoration of the birth of our Savior. Although the penitential character of sacrificing hours of sleep is recognized, anticipated “Simbang Gabi” has been allowed in the Philippines. This has given more people, especially families, the opportunity to practice this tradition. One may see families even opting to attend these Masses in chapels inside shopping malls.
The “puto bumbong” and the “bibingka” are Filipino delicacies closely associated with the Simbang Gabi and have become part of the food fare that Catholic families partake of with steaming “tsaa” or coffee after attending Mass. It has been observed that those selling these food items are also families that have made it their tradition to make these delicacies only during the Christmas season.
Filipino Catholic families decorate their homes for Christmas with colorful lights, garlands and the native “parol”. Christmas trees are a common sight. But the most important reminder of this season is the “Belen” which every Catholic home must have for there we find the true reason for this celebration – the birth of our Savior. It has to have a prominent place in the house where the whole family gathers to share each other’s joy and give thanks to the God not only for the gift of family but for his gift to humanity which is his Son Jesus Christ.
Every Filipino Catholic family prepares for the noche buena which is shared after attending the Mass on Christmas eve. The food need not be expensive although most families,especially the mothers, make it a point to serve something special. What matters most is that all the family members are present.
Celebrating the New Year
After all the merrymaking, the Filipino Catholic family could gather and say together a prayer of thanksgiving to God. There is so much to thank God for the year that had just passed – family, health, guidance, friends, and all the other blessings that God had bestowed on us.
The Filipino Catholic family starts the New Year also with a prayer of trust in God’s providence and guidance for the year ahead. And we should not forget to thank God for the gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose “yes” to God’s plan inaugurated the accomplishment of the mystery of Incarnation. She cooperated with God and she became the Mother of God whose solemnity we observe on the first day of the new year.