“No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it [under a bushel basket], but on a lampstead so that those who enter might see the light. The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness. Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness. If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness.”
– Luke 11:33-36
I miss the Filipino Christmas. I refer to this sentiment in the present tense because before Advent even began last Sunday, the Christmas season already started back home. The Philippines is known to have the longest Christmas season in the world, lasting from the first of September until the feast of the Epiphany in early January. Imagine: fall semester has barely started at Hamilton, but on the opposite side of the world, children are already beginning to sing Christmas carols from one doorstep to another, street vendors are already selling various ornaments, and craftspeople have already begun to sell their handmade “parol”, or Christmas lanterns. By early October, some families have already decorated their houses, complete with a fully adorned tree, several parol hanging from their balconies, and string lights lining the gates of their homes. As November rolls in, Christmas parties in schools, offices and among groups of friends and families are all the rage.
Just imagine what Christmas Eve is like.
The Christmas spirit in the Philippines is a nationwide phenomenon like no other. What I admire the most, however, is that there is more to the season than aesthetics and consumerism. Misa de gallo, the novena of early morning masses that takes place during the nine days leading up to Christmas, is an important tradition that majority of Filipinos attend, even if it means going to church at three o’clock in the morning. I remember looking around during one of these masses last year and noticing that the people around me didn’t come across as sleepy or fatigued, but rather they were genuinely consumed by the true meaning of Advent and of Christmas.
What can I say? We take Advent pretty seriously in the Philippines.
One of my favourite parts about Christmas back home was walking to church with a little over three hours of sleep and feeling a strong sense of solidarity with everyone in the room, and then walking back through illuminated streets, one parol-decorated house after another. During that one early morning mass last year, highly aware that it would be the last time I would be attending misa de gallo for a while, I realized that the wreaths, parols and Christmas lights, were more than just decorations; they were physical representations of the spirit of anticipation within every Filipino.
That’s probably the one thing that I’m going to miss the most about Christmas in the Philippines this year. More than the presents, the food – oh, the food – and even the company of my own family, I’m going to miss the unifying Christmas spirit present not only in the aesthetic or material surroundings, but also, most importantly, in everyone.
Ask anyone who grew up in the Philippines, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
— Kaye Kagaoan ‘15