Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Overheard During Simbang Gabi

"Simbang Gabi" is a beautiful Filipino Christmas tradition.  It is a novena made up of nine dawn masses from the 16th to the 24th of December.  As our parish priest noted, some people who do not go to mass for the rest of the year make their only  appearance at Church for these "misa de gallo" or "Simbang Gabi".  He said it had  magnetic powers he could not fathom.  Every year I have observed it drawing people from all walks of life, energizing people to get up really early and packing the church with so much anticipation.

But alas, it is hard to quiet down the Simbang Gabi crowd.  Teenagers show off their cellphones to one another.  Lovers cuddle due to the cold December mornings.  Little children run all over the place.  Vendors selling taho, rice cakes, and all sorts of food roam the parish grounds.

In an attempt to lessen the noise level and maintain the solemnity of the mass, our parish council flashed an announcement on the projector screen this morning, in Tagalog.  It said something to this effect:

"Pakiusap, tayo po ay magbigay-galang sa Banal na Eukaristiya.  
Atin pong iwasan ang magkwentuhan sa loob ng simbahan at 
ilagay po natin ang ating mga cellphone sa silent mode."

The minute the announcement was flashed on the screen, I overheard a row of teenagers sitting not far away from me saying loudly to one another:

"Ano raw?
Ano yung Eukaristiya?"

It was a few minutes before mass started and I could not believe my ears.  All along I thought that they were noisy during Simbang Gabi because they did not care what was going on at the altar, Who was being offered, and what the significance of the Sacrifice was.  It dawned on me that it was possible that they did not know.

That was a totally different problem, and I informed our parish priest about it.  He could only shake his head.  He said, "Imposibleng hindi nila alam iyon".  He has his job cut out for him, all right.

In addition, during the recitation of the Apostle's Creed, I heard someone saying, 

"Nang may ikalawang araw ay nabuhay mag-uli"

In English, this meant, "On the SECOND day he rose again"...

It was quite interesting.  Either her Tagalog was rusty, or something else was.  

The choir put up a commendable effort in singing so bright and early.  The people hardly joined them, due probably to lack of sleep.  Or so I thought.  Until...

While I was going back to my seat after receiving Communion, the choir sang "Christmas in Our Hearts" by Jose Mari Chan. It was a song I hardly thought would be appropriate for mass, but one well loved by Filipinos.

So much so that I heard the whole church singing along, like a public karaoke session, belting out at the top of their lungs,

"Let's sing Meri Krismas, and a happy holiday (sic)
This season may we never forget the love we have for Jesus
Let Him be the one to guide us as another New year starts
And may the Spirit of Christmas be always in our hearts!"

I looked up, at Jesus on the Cross, and felt a smile growing in my heart.  For all our flaws, Filipinos do love Jesus, and we love to sing.  Who was I to judge people's faith for their mistakes, when, of all races,  Filipinos truly have Christmas in our hearts?  I was just sharing with a balikbayan friend last night that she had been to the US and Canada, and there was no "spirit of Christmas" until December 24, whereas here we started putting up lanterns and lights as early as September.  I had spent Christmas in Sydney and it was really different. 

In our parish, they served salabat (fresh ginger tea), coffee, pan de sal, and lomi after the mass.  The world may be having a financial crisis, but for the Filipinos, Christmas will always be celebrated in our hearts.

Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat!

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