Pacete: Filipino culture in Christmas

THE Spaniards made us Indios and Christians. Christianity is a gift from the Spaniards that made us aware that our ancestors were not monkeys…and we have a father that is God. We have a beautiful place called heaven if we die without mortal sin.

The Pope settled the rivalry for world power between Spain and Portugal by drawing a demarcation line: all lands west of the line were marked off for Spain, those east of the line for Portugal. Our country was taken by Spain. Without asking permission from our ancestors, they became subjects of two rulers: the Spanish King and the Pope.

The Spanish conquerors were racists. They treated our ancestors as savages (Indios). The friars made us Catholics… Dominicans, Augustinians, Franciscans, and later the Jesuits and Recollects. They taught the natives to say Latin prayers in place of the songs and heroic deeds of the ancestors. The natives were made to hold fiestas and processions as signs of humility and obedience to God.

Under the friar’s tutelage the Indios became good colonial… ignorant, superstitious, and with a huge inferiority complex. To know the chronology of faith, the Indios were introduced to Christmas. There was father Joseph and mother Mary who is pregnant but the father is not Joseph.

Before marriage, Mary was already pregnant because of the Holy Spirit and the real Father is God. Nevertheless, Mary remains a virgin. No one saw Father God and the Holy Spirit was a dove in the sky.

The origin of Christmas in our culture is complicated for the “Indios” to understand. The friars taught our ancestors that baby Jesus was cute and we have to kiss his image and they have to attend “aguinaldo” mass or “simbang gabi.” That could be for nine early mornings. Baby Jesus needs “regalo” but the gift could be shared to fellow “Indios.”

The “insulares” and the “peninsulares” were expecting more gifts from the “Indio obreros.” (I just don’t know if Christ said that also).

The friars would usually give long sermons to the “Indios” during the mass. If one would fall asleep, he will go to hell. Foods took center stage in the “Indio” family… salabat, puto bumbong, lechon, relleno, mechado, morcon, paella, lengua estofada, and other recipes learned by the “Indios” from their Spanish masters.

In the circle of “buena familias” or the “principalia,” they could have additional food and drinks… vino, jamon, bacalao, chocolate, queso, aceitunas, ceviche, gambas, and many more. The story of the nativity could be included in doctrina cristiana. Beautiful, young girls could be told by the friars after the mass, “Hijas… for your gifts wait for me at the convent.” (That is another story not related to Christmas.)

The parents were told to have “belen” in their homes with complete characters…Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepherds, three kings, flock of sheep, and the angel with star on top of the stable. To add color to the celebration, it was best to invite the friar or the “gobernadorcillo” to have breakfast in your house one morning.

When the Americans colonized us, our Christmas was enhanced. Our ancestors retained what they learned from the Spaniards and appreciated the American Christmas with Santa Claus. Our appetite welcomed the colas, hamburgers, hotdogs, French fries, popcorn, and made it a habit to stay longer in chain food stores. We greet each other, “Merry Christmas.”

We now cook spaghetti and different salad recipes. For our exchange of gifts, we prefer imported items. Christmas is not complete without viewing movies like “Avengers” or “Justice League.” On top of our dining table we display (meantime) grapes, apples, pears, oranges, and boxes of chocolate. If we cannot afford the real fruits, we buy plastic fruits to show off to neighbors passing by.

In our sala, we have plastic evergreen tree laden with absorbent cotton (snow) to remind us of white Christmas. In our High-Tech sound boxes, we play “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,” “Let It Snow,” “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Oh, Holy Night,” “Deck the Halls,” and other songs from Ray Conniff.

The American Christmas in our culture is telling us to prepare, at least, a “bongga” Christmas “noche buena” for good luck. We have to admit that in us there are re-oriented Filipino aspirations towards the American way of life. We call it the colonial mentality. This is multiculturalism in our celebration not discounting our integration of Chinese merrymaking. We have also belief in Chinese food as symbol for long life.

In our “nochebuena,” we always include Chinese food… lumpia shanghai, siopao, bihon, siomai, sotanghon, miswa and other items classified under “comida China.” Christmas is what we make it. Our culture has brought us as far as this. Don’t just forget that Christmas is believing that we should be gift for others. Jesus is in the heart not inside the gift box.

Published in the SunStar Bacolod newspaper on December 16, 2017.

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