December 22, 2006

My Mother's Christmas Memories

Recently my mother reminisced about the celebration of Christmas in her hometown in the Philippines.

The culture of most of the Philippines is Catholic, and holy days are still civic affairs.

Every home in town puts up a paper lantern in the shape of a star or comet to recall the star that honored the birth of Christ. Even the town’s church has a lantern. My mother remembers that they stretched wire from the choir loft over the main doors of the church all the way to the altar area. At some point during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve the church’s star lantern was released from the choir loft to shoot down the wire and come to a stop over the image of the Infant Jesus resting in a manger near the altar.

After Midnight Mass, the townspeople stayed up to celebrate with all sorts of desserts right in the square in front of the church or in their own homes.

Beginning with Christmas Day and continuing for eight days, vested acolytes would take the image of the Infant Jesus from the altar and carry it in procession from house to house throughout the entire town. When the acolytes took the image out of the church each day, the church bells would ring non-stop until the acolytes returned the image after that day’s round of visits.

The acolytes also rang a hand-bell as they carried the image through the town. This let each street know the image of the Infant was in their neighborhood. Each home (and even each shop in the town) admitted the acolytes and the image of the Infant. The residents in their homes and people in the shops would kiss the feet of the image, and send the acolytes on their way with small offerings of money.

People waited in their homes for the Infant to visit. If they heard the church bells stop, they knew that the Infant had gone back to the altar, and they waited for the next day.


Blogger M girl in Seattle said...

That's a charming story. I'm actually not religious in anyway, but I occasionally read your blog with some intrigue. :)

10:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Fr. Stephanos. It feels so good to be reminded of how we celebrated Christmas in the Philippines.

Your mother's story was exactly how I remember it, except for the part where an acolyte takes the image of the Santo Nino door-to-door.

In my hometown, this was done on the Feast of the Epiphany and the three little Wise Men were the ones who did the honors of taking the Infant Savior to people's homes.

Salamat po, Father.

4:34 AM  
Blogger Esther said...

Father, the Filipino Americans here attend the Misa de Gallo. Did your mom do that too?
BTW, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Esther, I believe you may be referring to the Masses before sunrise from December 17 through 24. Yes, that is the custom in the Philippines.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Der_Tommissar said...

And here I thought I was doing pretty well to get $20 as an altar boy for a wedding or a funeral.

I wish I'd been clued in on this "bring the Baby Jesus around town on Christmas" thing back when I was a kid.

10:38 AM  

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