Christmas is an occasion we Filipinos are known to celebrate the longest, what with preparations beginning as soon as the “-ber” months begin. In our country, it’s not surprising to see Christmas décors and hear Yuletide carols in public places as early as September.
Sadly this year, an unprecedented typhoon, and the storm surge it caused, struck many of our fellow Filipinos in the Visayas. As this tragedy that befell so many has made us more introspective of our priorities, the season further reminds us of the need for empathy, sharing and charity.
While many Christmas parties and activities have been put aside this year, the one tradition my husband Mike and I have chosen to keep and appreciate is the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi. Indeed, waking up to tranquil quiet mornings is something to savor amid this very different Christmas.
This 300-year-old tradition, which the Spanish friars introduced to our forefathers, certainly tries one’s sense of perseverance and self-sacrifice. Surprisingly though, even in these modern and demanding times, many Filipinos still manage to complete the nine-day novena masses.
During these dawn masses, I realize that one blessing we have thus far is the freedom to observe centuries’ old religious beliefs and traditions. My in-laws who have been living in Riyadh for more than five years look forward to coming home for Christmas each year, apparently because of this.
I couldn’t help but ask them once, how most Filipinos remain devout in their faith in a very conservative Muslim country. I’m sure such a situation is a difficult test in remaining faithful and prayerful amid the absence of visible expressions of Christian traditions.
Given the inherent cultural value placed religion in the Philippines, we often forget to appreciate this great liberty—to be able to practice the Catholic faith and its traditions freely. The same goes for fellow Filipinos who observe other religions in this country, so much so that for this reason alone, we should really be grateful to be Filipino.
Hence, no matter how you plan to celebrate the holidays, may we all find a moment amid the more somber festivities to whisper a sincere prayer of thanks: For the freedom to express our faith; for the pride and resilience we continue to have as Filipinos; and most of all, for the blessing to be with family and loved ones.