IT was when I was in elementary school that I got curious about Christmas. I wanted to know what Christmas was all about. My mother, Paula, a very devout Catholic, told me that Christmas was about the birth of Jesus Christ. I became more curious then about why she had to wake up all of us siblings at dawn to attend the Misa de Gallo with her and our dad, Pedro, who drove us to the Baguio Cathedral which would always be full of the faithful.
But, why should we go to mass every dawn until the birthday of Jesus, I asked my Mom, who replied that the Misa de Gallo is actually a novena to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who gave birth to and is the mother of Jesus Christ. As to the Christmas tree, the decorations, gift giving, caroling, and parties until the coming of the new year, I just thought that it was all about the celebration of the birth of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, without bothering to ask what Jesus was saving us from. Over the years since then, I slowly came to understand what all these preparations and a big celebration was all about.
I learned from Dad Pedro that the word Christmas originated from two words – Christ (referring to Jesus Christ) and Mass (a gathering of people) – thus Christmas is the gathering of people for Jesus Christ, to celebrate His birth or coming to this world.
As a purely public school-bred child, I did not have any catechism except those of my parents and catechists who would time and again, teach religion at the Baguio Central School. I remember a Mr. Alabanza who even encouraged students to attend his catechism class by giving out shining five centavo coins and silver dimes to those who could answer his questions about the Holy Trinity or recite the Ten Commandments or the Seven Sacraments, etc. Note that there were no encyclopedias or reference books then and Google was ages away.
Piecing all my childhood learnings together, it gave me a good understanding of Christmas – that the Christian world rejoices at the coming of Jesus Christ, who would save the world from eternal damnation. This stems from Christian teaching that every man has a soul that lives on even when the body perishes from this earth. That soul returns to the kingdom of God but only if that soul was able to guide the body, on which it was embedded, to a chaste and sinless life at the time of its death. Otherwise, that soul suffers forever in hell.
When Adam and Eve were banished from paradise for committing a sin against God, all human beings bore the stigma of the original sin. There was no way for man to be saved until Jesus Christ came to this world to spread hope, love, joy, and peace. That is the reason for this great celebration each year. Not only Christians celebrate because all other religious denominations join in this worldwide event.
My childhood recollection brings me to the time when our family would start decorating our modest home in preparation for Christmas. Dad Pedro would bring me to the Malcolm Square plaza to pick out our Christmas tree from among the freshly cut pine trees laid on the ground for sale. The fresh smell of the pine tree would soon fill the air for days as it stood in a corner of our living room adorned with decorations that my Mom Paula, sisters Choling, Josie, and Vangie would make, including a silver star on top and a garland from white crepe paper, all home-made because there were no department stores or malls, Lazada or mail orders, then.
I also learned that the Christmas tree symbolizes the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The tree’s branches and shrubs are an emblem of immortality and symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross. The Christmas tree ornaments pieced together by the family members, and done every year, were cherished moments and symbolized peace, joy, kindness, faithfulness, and goodness that would linger on until the new year and the following yuletide season. They would not fade like the evergreen pine tree that does not lose its foliage in winter but stands strong and green against a barren landscape.
But the symbol of hope, love, joy, and peace extends beyond the family – to all of humanity, who after all, belong to one family of God. Thus gift-giving is an expression of one’s appreciation and love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Gifts need not be expensive, it just needs to come from one’s heart. As expressed in a Charlie Brown post, “The greatest gift you can give someone is simply to thank them for being part of your life.”
To all my friends and readers, THANK YOU… FOR MERELY EXISTING!