Christmas is the most joyous time of the year, as the saying goes. And it certainly seems so in the Philippines, where we can also say that it’s the most anticipated time of the year. Christmas décor starts going up in the homes in September and carols can be heard in the malls months before it is actually Christmas.
However, the commercialization sometimes overshadows the real meaning of Christmas to such an extent that its ultimate foundation becomes totally obscured.
Santa is so ubiquitous that one would think that it’s his birthday we’re celebrating and this almost tempts us to paraphrase the old carol to be “Save us all from Santa’s power” instead of Satan’s. Christmas truly celebrates the great gift of God of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to sinful humanity. The birth of our Saviour is the reason for the season and this is the cause of all our joy and mirth and the Christmas creche is an important reminder of this truth which underlies all our celebrations.
The celebrations in the Philippines begin 9 days prior no Christmas with the Simbang Gabi Masses, a novena of Masses originally in commemoration of the 9 months in which Jesus dwelt in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. This hallowed tradition in admirably followed by the people and is an important expression of popular piety. Our priests celebrated the Simbang Gabi in the chapels of San Celestino Centro, Papayahan and Tinbugan.
For the final day, on Christmas eve, all the people were gathered together in the Seminary chapel for the Mass.
Our Religious Family, including the Fathers and Seminarians and Novices of the IVE, the SSVM sisters and the members of our Third Order and our neighbours and friends celebrated Christmas in a festive atmosphere that was heightened by the ceremony of the Imposition of the Religious Habit of our Institute, the cassock, on 2 novices. This is in addition to the 8 other novices who received their cassocks on the 22nd of October.
The new novices, Peter from Vietnam and Aloysius from Nigeria, were clothed in our habit to symbolize their death to the world and their putting on of Christ and as such, becoming a new creation in Him.
After the Holy Mass, everyone lined up to venerate the Christ Child and it was moving to see the young and the old all sharing in the same experience of the Shepherds and the Magi who stood in awe and wonder on that First Christmas night in adoring the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.
After the Holy Mass, we observed another beautiful Christmas tradition which is the singing of Christmas carols. Asides from the combined choir of our Religious Family who delivered several renditions of perennial favourites, the brothers and sisters of the different language groups were also invited to present carols from their own traditions.
Members of the Third Order also delivered local Tagalog carols and Spanish carols were sung by the Spanish speakers and there were carols in Chinese and Tamil as well. It was a great opportunity to experience the universality of the rejoicing at the birth of Christ, which as the angel said, was good news of great joy for all the nations.
Members of our IVE Men’s group also delivered a performance and finally, all the Tagalog speakers sang a local favourite before a closing anthem to our Blessed Mother capped the night.
The Octave of Christmas in our Institute’s tradition is marked with 8 days of festivities, which included a series of skits by the seminarians who competed in groups for the prize which is given out on New Year’s. The brothers put in much effort to give their take of popular biblical tales and folklore, with costumes, props and music that brought these stories to life.
Those were indeed days of great joy because the event we celebrate in indeed joyous, the gift of God’s Son Our Lord Jesus Christ, who in the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, became what we are in order that He may make us what He is. And that’s truly a cause to rejoice!