Thursday, December 22, 2005

Filipino Christmas

Rational Technology for Christmas Day, 2005

As I write this, I've completed seven of the nine Christmas Dawn Masses for this year. It's a habit that I picked up a little late in life, but it's something that's grown on me year after year. It's not such a challenge to get myself out of bed at 4:00am anymore; in fact, I look forward to starting the day early with the Misa de Gallo.

Owing to a somewhat erratic schedule, I usually end up fulfilling the cycle at different churches. This year was no exception. My first Mass was in the chapel of the Perpetual Succor Hospital Cebu, followed by five Masses in our own Mary Immaculate Parish, and the last three Masses (I hope) in the Sto. Nino Peace Chapel in the heart of Greenbelt, Makati.

One thing can be said for all these Dawn Masses: they are packed to the rafters with devotees. This holds true for the churches I've been to in Cebu, Dumaguete, and Makati. I suppose it holds true for churches throughout the rest of the country as well.

And these devotees are not the fanatical wailing old women so stereotypically painted by cynics and critics of the Catholic Church. These devotees are a healthy mix of young and old, all of them vigorous in spirit. What is most heartening is the sight of entire families in attendance. In this manner the celebration of Christmas becomes a true family affair.

Of all the countries in the world, we are truly unique in this. No other people celebrates Christmas quite like we do; and the hallmark is not in the months-early tunes of Christmas carols in the air nor in the Christmas shopping rush (because both, I think, are inventions of the universal brotherhood of desperate merchants) but in the Misa de Gallo.

The nine-day Misa de Gallo, as I understand it, began during the Spanish times. Mass was said early to allow the farmers to attend before they began the day's labors on the fields. It's quite a wonder, then, that in these days when few of us labor as farmers, this old tradition should continue to thrive.

It makes me believe that, yes, there is some special characteristic and special destiny that marks us as a people.

They cynic might laugh and ask whether the never-ending suffering that inflicts us is part of this special destiny? That if so, perhaps it would be better if we were a little less blessed? To this, I can only point out that the heralds of the Christ first announced His birth to poor and ignorant shepherds. And they were happy in spite of their poverty, even as we continue to be happy despite our own.

In any case, the answer will not emerge from biblical references nor from my own poor musings. One must see it with one's own eyes. So to the cynics, to all who do not feel Christmas, and to all those who have not yet ventured to a Misa de Gallo, I say: join us the nine-day Christmas Dawn Masses next year. As Philip said to Nathanael, I say to you: "Come and see!"

In the meantime, Merry Christmas.


  1. next year. promise. swear. all the nine masses.

    wow, you're going for nine. whew. haven't done that. i think the most i could muster was... three. or two. it's one of those things you resolve to do but can't. (i resolve to do. i can't.) i'll forever admire those people who're able to... those who can and do.

    merry christmas! =)

  2. Hey, TP. Never too late to start. Thanks for visiting. Merry Christmas!