Celebrating Christmas and New Year…The Filipino Catholic Family Way

By Lilian G. Comsti

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It is said that the Philippines has the longest Christmas season that begins as soon as the “ber” months appear on the calendar. For where in the world could one hear Christmas carols in September? And where else in the world could one see malls bedecked with colorful holiday   decors immediately after All Souls’ Day?

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.

 Filipino Catholic Family Christmas Traditions

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.

The spirit of giving and sharing among family members is what makes Christmas an occasion to look forward to. It is in giving that we are remembered and it is also in giving that we show we remember those close to our hearts.
The Filipino Catholic family extends this spirit to those who are less fortunate. Visiting orphanages, donating toys and necessities to charity institutions and supporting relief drives for disaster-stricken areas, like the provinces ravaged recently by typhoon Pablo, are gestures that give meaning to this celebration. 

Celebrating the New Year

The Philippines welcomes the New Year with so much noise from firecrackers. It is said that we learned this practice of using firecrackers from the Chinese who believe that noise drives away evil spirits. We wake up in the morning of New Year ’s Day with smog (smoke from firecrackers and burned tires and fog) filling the air and the streets covered with all sorts of litter.
For years, the government has been conducting campaigns against the use of firecrackers because of the danger they pose to life, property, and health and the pollution they bring to the environment.
The Catholic Church is advocating alternative ways of greeting the New Year which do not have the adverse effects of using firecrackers. To make noise, our families could play loud lively music or use pots and pans or blow the “torotot” which comes in various sizes.

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.

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