|My cousin Jepoy and my aunt Joyce|
with my mum, Liza, in the background
Most of us in Bohol celebrate Christmas... But HOW?
Christmas is a time of genuine love—of perpetual hope—of giving—of honoring our family and friends. That list could go on forever. This season is a time to celebrate all good things in life and to make efforts to put a smile on the face of every human being on Earth. But, while we all know that, different people have different names for Christmas and different ways of celebrating the calendar year’s coldest months.
Let’s keep our minds fixed on our beloved province’s traditions. It isn’t a secret that Bohol is predominantly Roman Catholic, so most of us who were raised “the Catholic way” are familiar with the yearly routine of the nine dawns of Simbang Gabi, culminating with the Misa de Gallo that begins on the final hour of Christmas Eve and crosses over to 12 midnight of Christmas Day. For the fortunate, a lavish Noche Buena feast follows, where Lolos and Lolas sneakily carve the fattiest parts of the inasal and run to their bedrooms to indulge in the high-cholesterol goodness even though they know it’s bad for them. Our mamas, papas, aunties, and uncles, on the other hand, laugh ‘till 4:00AM with three or so bottles of French wine and whisky on the table. We—20-somethings and teenagers—lock ourselves in the biggest room of the house to munch on desserts and drink beer, leaving the househelp wondering where that big platter of mango float went, while the kids watch cartoons and play until they pass out.
For people with vegan or vegetarian food choices, a rainbow of fruits is a more common sight. Fruit-based desserts on children's hands could be seen in place of ice cream sundaes and dairy.
Good times, yes? With that said, however, it must be noted that not every family in the province celebrates it like that, it’s either they’re incapable or they just do things differently. I’ll lay out a sequence of “not everyone is…” statements. Let’s begin with this:
Not every family is fortunate
Not everyone could afford such a feast. The less-fortunate Catholics and Christians make do with whatever they could serve. The “inasal na baboy,” in poorer homes, is more often than not omitted and replaced with simpler dishes. For people in charity-built villages such as Habitat for Humanity and resettlement communities like the ones in Danao, Ubay, and Carmen, French wine is absent while tuba, bahalina, and local rum come pouring at seemingly limitless supplies.
The question here is: are they less happy than their wealthy fellow Bol-anons? I don’t think so. Some in those communities even prove to be much, much happier than the rich ones. Little money doesn’t equate to misery all the time. Of course, at times it does, but for Christmas, some poor folks have a knack for making the most of it. Bless them.
Not everyone is free
Thousands and thousands of star lanterns are hung around the province during Christmas time. It helps brighten people’s spirits. I don’t know if you feel the same way, but there’s just something about colorful lights that somehow repels misery and helps put smiles on our faces. Some people make their own stars, some buy from department stores, while the more charitable few flock to the jails to buy from the prisoners. You read me right. If you don’t already know this, read and learn.
Each year, prisoners make Christmas lanterns as a self-sustaining project. And while it’s true that the incarcerated ones are serving time for breaking the law, Christmas is a season when things like that aren’t supposed to be considered when doing good deeds. Prison is a horrible place where toilet paper, shampoo, soap and toothbrushes are scarce. When you buy lanterns from prisoners, you’re helping them buy these things so they could live humanely inside the place. You’re helping them contemplate on their mistakes minus the foul smell of unwashed underarms and unbrushed teeth.
Not every family is Catholic or Christian
You might think I’m solely referring to Islam as a religion in the province that isn’t Christian, but you’re wrong there. Let me give you a little history lesson.
Before the Spanish came to Christianize Bohol in 1565, Christmas time wasn’t called “Christmas time.” The indigenous tradition called the celebration, “Pasko sa Tingtugnaw,” which, in essence, means “Feast of the Cold Days.” In each community, during the day of the Winter Solstice (December 22 in 2011), a Tumanan (priest) would head the fire circles and prayers during the feasts. In the capital, the Babaylan (high priestess of the land) headed the rites. Mind you, such ceremonies stretched to variants of the celebration in indigenous spiritual traditions all over the archipelago. It wasn’t just Bohol. Cebu, before 1521, had a similar tradition as well.
In 2007, I met a Jewish woman who happened to be living in Bohol. Not just that, she was herself a Boholana, so I believe it’s in order to give recognition to the Jewish community here. Judaism’s counterpart for Christmas is called Hanukkah, or “Festival of Lights.” It is an eight-day celebration commemorating the rededication to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. This year, it began on the sunset of the 20th of December and will end on the sunset of the 28th of the same month.
For religions that don’t celebrate the season, what’s not to be happy about? There are always month-long sales in malls and department stores. Add that to the fact that most people usually become a bit more kind, joyous, and generous during the cold days. What sensible person would want to maintain a frown with the happy air engulfing Bohol? A family of Jehovah ’s Witnesses may choose to stay home and watch television, but when you enter their house, even if they consider it an ordinary day, you’ll find them a bit more joyful than usual.
Hindus celebrate it as Pancha Ganapati while Taoists call the day of the Winter solstice the Precious Purity Festival. I even have Buddhist and Muslim friends who celebrate Christmas for the happy season that it is and because they resonate with the joy that most of their fellow human beings feel. See?
Remove tradition from the equation and you’ll see that Christmas is still Christmas. Notice how a lot of artists make everything shine during the season despite not professing any religion? Of course, a good Christian would say that Christ is at the heart of Christmas. I have no arguments to say in contrast. I do maintain that a Divine being is indeed causing all this love and happiness to flow and I’m thankful for it. So even if your only source of smiles during the holidays is looking for Santa Claus/Father Christmas, you’re still blessed. We all are. Such a concept doesn’t only scope material gifts. Santa Claus’ gift giving, according to the original stories, encompasses the gift of joy, hope, love, and charity. And speaking of the latter, not everyone has their loved ones around. Kudos to those who have helped relieve the typhoon victims' predicaments and props to those who are moved enough to do the same. You are the true Santas.
The essence of the season will live on as long as every sensible person agrees that it's a time for all things good! Your Christmas is my Pasko sa Tingtugnaw, their Hanukkah, and everyone’s time to smile.