Ages back when I was still in the Philippines, I could easily remember the “puto bumbong”“cuchinta”, “bibingka” , all those “kakanin”, that we usually devour after the midnight mass. I remember that right after the Simbang gabi or Misa de Gallo – which 9 days “ordeal” of having to wake up at 4 am, had been converted into some sort of a competition among friends and relatives – we’d rush to the bibingka stall to order our morning breakfast. I want to re-live again the moment while going to Church, to feel the cool breeze of the morning dew hitting my face. Despite the “inconvenience” of waking up as early as 4 am, we do our best to finish the 9 days, because of the belief that we shall be rewarded after the sacrifice we’ve confronted with. Truly though, after each mass we feel bright and gay, moreover because we know, that Christmas is just around the corner.
It is really amazing how we, Filipinos, start the “celebration” of the Yuletide season. When the “-ber” month begins – September to be exact – we already hear Christmas songs and carols being aired on the radio. Big shopping malls, stores and even houses begin filling up their establishments with Christmas decors. People start hanging “parols” at the windows of their houses. Cherry lights illuminate facades of buildings and houses as well. Christmas “Carolers” would start forming groups and start practicing to serenade families, offices, friends, before Christmas arrives. All these convey the Christmas message and the atmosphere of joy with soon take place. It also means that we have to be prepare wrapping gifts for our beloved relatives and friends. But, do we really feel that “spirit” in our hearts or we were just being courteous to the tradition that our parents, grand-parents and forefathers had instilled in us to follow? A huge question to respond to…but…. I guess we actually did feel the spirit of Christmas. Sad to say though but I think, yes, decades back.
I think the “commercial value” of what Christmas is all about, has become more significant nowadays than its “spiritual value”. Gone are the days when children were contented receiving a wooden car, or a t-shirt or marbles, from their ninong or ninang. “Mano po, Ninong/Ninang”, was repeatedly said and before, no matter what the gift was received from the ninong or ninang, children didn’t feel upset, a ten peso bill was then a “treasure”. Now, gifts have to be “exaggeratedly” more than a 1.000 pesos worth.. Children no longer see the “true value” or the “spirit” behind the gift. What they see more now is the “amount” the gift shows on its price tag.
The Filipino “poor”, have likewise differed their attitude towards the concept of Christmas “spirit”. Street children become more “aggressive” in the manner they’d ask for alms; expression of anger, stress and anxiety are seen written on the faces of some people; theft become rampant along the streets of Manila. Traffic jam is everywhere. People are seen arguing at the slightest provocation. Local police are more visible in the streets to beef up security. There are hundreds of negative things we could observe during the period, that we can no longer tell whether people feel any “spirit” at all for the meaning of what is to be celebrated. Making us think that the Christmas decors, cherry lights, lanterns, the “misa de gallo”, and the rest of the other Christmas motifs, are merely superficial display on how we really conceive Christmas to be.
I miss how it was decades back, I feel the nostalgia of being once again waking up in the wee hours in the morning to attend the Simbang Gabi; to devour “puto bumbong”, “cuchinta” and “bibingka”. To be in a carolling group to sing Christmas songs, to see lanterns and cherry lights. To listen to kids saying “mano po, ninong”, to hear Christmas songs being played on the radio. To feel the morning dew cool my face while in Church. These are my Christmas “spirits”. Although I am thousands of kilometres away from home, there is no chance by which I will change my “Christmas spirit” for something else in this world, even if I am only reminiscing the past. But given the chance, I would surely celebrate Christmas in the Philippines over again to feel my “Christmas spirit”. Meanwhile, I can only be content to feel my “Christmas spirit” in dreams, the most I can afford to do right now. How about you, what is your Christmas spirit?