Christmas has its Carols, Lent has Pabasa. Pabasa is the reading of the Pasyon. In its entirety, it covers the salvation story from genesis to the death and crucifixion of Christ.
Welcome to Lent in the Philippines. Welcome to Lent in Bayanan where I grew up.
During Lent, the plaintive voices of the chanters singing the Pasyon filled the air. They sent one to sleep at night and greeted him in the morning when he wakes up. The reading would take several days and nights. The host/hostess served unlimited snacks and meals to the chanters and even to bystanders like us, children whose only interest was to have some snacks. :-D Coffee and Salabat (made from boiled ginger and sugar) flowed to keep the people awake and the throats refreshed. Salabat was particularly good at soothing tired vocal chords.
Many of my immediate neighbors hosted the Pabasa back then and I still remember the faces and the voices who participated in the Pabasa. There were several of them, most of them old (at least from a child's point of view). And they could be counted on to chant whenever and wherever they were needed. That seemed to be their devotion. It was no surprise then that their voices and faces have become staples of my growing up Lent.
I wanted to keep this practice alive in the family (although our family never hosted a Pabasa). So, when my mother visited my brother in Canada, I asked her to bring me a copy of the Pasyon. I browsed through the book but promptly got discouraged by the archaic Tagalog in which the verses of the Pasyon were written. Just a few days ago, I had a hearty discussion with my father about the meaning of certain terms used in the story. That solved my problem with understanding the words. I have a bigger issue though - I do not know the melody of the chant. I called my sister to ask. She is as clueless as I am.
Now I wonder, how many of the next generation have picked up the skill to chant the Pasyon? I hope that there are some in my generation who did. It will be a sad day when no one else knows how to chant and the Pabasa becomes history.
This clip is closest to what we had in my hometown:
Like any other house in its time and place, my grandmother's (Lola's) house was made of wood. It sat on wood posts. It had walls from wood boards and floors out of wood slats. It had wide open windows and doors without any real locks. Air and heat and dust freely came in and out of the house and warmed and fanned and dusted everyone who came in and out of the house. It had two sets of steps: the front steps which were half cement, half wood; and, the back steps which were all of cement. At the top of the front steps was a little balcony where a long rustic bench awaited a guest. The back steps were mostly used by family and those who help out with chores because awaiting the unsuspecting visitor was an open area, referred to as banggerahan, where the sink for washing and cleaning was. The door led to a kitchen where a stove fashioned from ash dominated. Cooking camp-fire style was quite common then. Nearby was a little table, called latok. The top part of this table could be removed and used outdoors when food preparations needed to be done outdoors.
I spent many childhood days in Lola's house. In the living room was a little hutch where books and family albums were kept. Inside this hutch, I found treasures like Bible Stories, Living in God's World, and another Science book – imported colorful books - that became the treasures of my young life. I also met Perry Mason in this hutch for the first time but I was still too young to have any real interest in him. I also found old greeting cards and post cards that showed me things and places I never knew existed. And then there was the black and white box television that lured me and enthralled me with afternoon soaps and old movies.
But they were not the only treasures from my Lola's house. It was surrounded by fruit bearing trees. So I, along with cousins, spent a lot of time eating fruit freshly picked from any of the fruit-bearing trees in Lola's place - chico, caimito, guyabano, jackfruit, and bananas, to name a few. I helped Lola pick coffee beans and cacao, or eggplants and string beans from her garden. At any given time, she would be drying coffee beans, or kamias, or cacao in bilaos in her yard. I watched her raise her hogs which roamed in the little fenced area on the other side of the house. I joined the elderly women in the novenas – mostly to remember the dead - held in Lola's house. And in her house, I played with my cousins and visited with relatives and had festive meals.
My Lola was a fruit and vegetable trader so I watched her pack chico and other fruits and vegetables in baskets for shipping. The room under the house where the fruits were stored smelled of the kalburo or calcium carbide that was used to ripen the fruits.
I have always identified this house as Lola's house. My grandfather died when I was about 7 years old and when all of her children had gone off to marry, work or pursue college degrees. But Lola did not want for company. She was surrounded by relatives – children, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, not to mention non-related neighbors who were quite rare in those days. At night, her house would be full of people cheering their favorite basketball teams or crying with the latest soap opera as they watched TV. Lola was one of the few who had television and people flocked to her house to watch TV. When all of the people had left – late in the night – one or two of her many grandchildren would stay and keep her company for the night.
Time passed by. Many got their own TV sets and fewer people visited at night. The grandchildren of my generation grew up but the younger ones took their turn in keeping Lola company. The house got older and a little more quiet save for the wall clock that gave a hollow 'bong' when it announced the hour. Lola got older. The house slowly fell into disrepair. Termites and other insects slowly gained on the wood walls and then the foundations. Meanwhile, Lola found it increasingly difficult to go up and down the steps.
One day, I heard that the house was renovated. A cement enclosure was built under the old house while the top part was torn down. Lola lived in the 'new' house. But not for long. One day, while returning from a visit to my uncle, she tripped and hit her head on a rock. She was hospitalized and went downhill from there. I last visited her in her 'new' house where she laid in state. And that was the last I saw of it.
Today, that place is occupied by one of my cousins, so I heard. The trees that have fed us in those days are gone. When Lola died, the land surrounding the old house was distributed among her children. The trees have been felled to make room for the children's houses. Instead of grass carpeting the ground, there is now pavement of all sorts. Gone is Lola's house. It went with her.
Thank you for visiting. Have a blessed day.
Lola's house was not as bad as it was drawn. :-D :-)
Well, I hope that this topic is not too stale. I suppose that if you look at it from a cultural, not a new year's day perspective, it is still timely. But before I proceed, let me invite you to visit Going Crazy, Wanna Go. It kindly featured this blog in its newbie bloghop and will post today an interview with me.
Now, for the Seven Quick Takes - New Year's Day Philippine Style.
--- 1 ---
When I was young, people used bamboo cannons, known as bumbong, to greet the new year. Their familiar booms could be heard days, even weeks, before the new year. To make the cannon, neighborhood children would smoothen a bamboo and remove its innards to make a long pipe. Since I never helped make a cannon - this was mostly a boy thing, after all, I would refer you to the link. I remembered them bending over the hole on the cannon putting kerosene and lighting it up to produce that booming sound. Some even covered the muzzle with a tin can just to see it fly when the bamboo went 'boom!". This practice is all but gone though. Firecrackers - which increasingly got bigger and more dangerous each year - have replaced the bamboo cannons. On the days leading to January 1st, the air would be full of the sound of a billion popcorns popping and the soot that went with it. New year's day would find many suffering from some form of respiratory problem due to the smoke and acrid odor that the firecrackers, and even fireworks, produced. The ground would also be littered with tiny pieces of paper that used to wrap the firecrackers. And it was usual too to find out that the celebrations brought not only joy and fun but also horrific damage to life and property. As many resolutions there were for the new year were the number of careless, even foolish, people who lost not just a digit on their hands, but also their lives.
--- 2 ---
New Year's Day was heralded by a Midnight Mass. After the Mass, there would be a Media Noche or Midnight Dinner in most houses. Everyone could drop by and share the feast.
--- 3 ---
The table would be full of round shaped fruits and food. There would be apples, grapes, oranges, whole coconuts, local round fruits. There would be round shaped rice concoctions. Then there would be sweet, sticky delicacies. Why? The round shape symbolized money. More like coins, if I may say so. And the sweet, sticky stuff? They were to invite sweetness in life and to make them, hmm, stick.
--- 4 ---
But those were not all. Joining the edible food items would be containers filled with salt, rice, sugar, water. There would even be a coconut sapling. They were on the table for the same reason as those in number 3. They symbolized plenty prosperity, not having to want for any necessity.
--- 5 ---
This desire for plenty or prosperity is echoed in our new year's greeting - Masaganang Bagong Taon, or 'Manigong Bagong Taon' meaning 'prosperous new year'. Both 'masagana' and 'manigo' mean prosperous, plentiful (while 'bagong' = new; and 'taon' = year).
--- 6 ---
The round motiff was not limited to what was on the table. It would appear in clothing too. Hence, polka dots would suddenly be all over during the new year. One time, the Priest, commenting on this superstitious practice said - why be content with coins - wear something with rectangles instead. Well, somebody dear to me went beyond wearing it. He spread bills on the bed and laid down on it.
--- 7 ---
When we were children we were told, in jest, to jump three times at the stroke of midnight to get taller. I tried that many times. It did not work.
And now, mindful again of today's feast, allow me to share this Hugh Jackman, et.al version of We Three Kings -
This Christmas Eve morning, while I lazed in bed trying to summon the courage to step on the cold floor, I took a trip down my Christmas past, when I was a child living in a little out of- the-way barrio where and when life was much more simple.
I. Christmas and Mass
The Holy Mass was, and still is, the center of our Christmas celebrations. I can say that this was true not only for our family but for all of us residents of Bayanan. Christmas decorations might be up and Christmas themed music might be heard as early as when the first 'ber' days come, but nothing proclaimed Christmas the way the Simbang Gabi did.
Simbang Gabi or Missa de Gallo, literally Mass of the Rooster, refers to the traditional nine-day dawn Masses, starting on the 16th of December and ending on the 24th. We would wake up at 3:30 a.m. Soon, we would hear the merry ringing of the Church bells. After getting dressed, we would all walk bleary eyed and shivering to Church, with family and neighbors and whoever we might meet along the way, in time for the 4:30 a.m. Mass. There was hardly any public much less private transportation way back then. The air hummed with the Christmas Carols being amplified from the Church. And of course, there were the occasional crowing of the roosters. We would find the Church already full of people, gaily decorated with our parol - Christmas stars - and all lit up. We went home to the strains of a popular and beloved Christmas ditty - Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit. Some were lucky to be able to go back to sleep after coming back from the Mass, but for many, it would just be time to prepare for the day - for school (if schools were not yet on a Christmas break), for work.
Capping the series of Masses would be the Misa de Aguinaldo, the Midnight Mass. The morning of the 24th would be full of anticipation for the Misa de Aguinaldo. In our Christmas fineries, we went early to Church in the hope of finding seats, but by 10:30 p.m., most of the pews would be taken. They would be packed so tight that one could not wedge a pin between those who were seated. The aisles would also be packed with people as well. Those who came in later would fill the patio of the Church.
The Mass began with the joyful tolling of the bells. The air would be filled with incense as the Priest and the Altar boys processed. It would be Missa Cantada, or sung Mass. I waited expectantly for the Gloria because then, the Church would explode with the joyful singing of the Gloria (which was not sung during the Advent Season), the ringing of the bells, and the lighting of the Manger. After the Mass, everyone fell in line to adore the Infant Jesus. Like the shepherds of more than 2000 years ago, we gave our humble homage to the new born King, except that while the shepherds adored Christ face to face, we had to settle for an image of Him in the meantime. Once more, after the Mass, we all walked home. The road was full of voices greeting each other Merry Christmas and chatting about their Noche Buena fare.
In the morning, we would be back in Church for the morning Mass. It was a joyful Mass but not nearly as dramatic as the Midnight Mass. But I liked attending both.
Integral to our Christmas celebrations was the feasting. After the Midnight Mass, we would have the Media Noche, as we called it, but also known as Noche Buena to many. It is the Midnight Dinner. Everyone was welcome. It was like a general open house everywhere. When we were young, this would be the time when we would have imported fruits like apples and grapes. Apples and grapes would accompany our traditional fare of pancit, suman, tamales, and buco salad and leche flan on the dinner table.
III. GIFTS AND BLESSINGS
Gift giving is not a traditional practice when I was growing up, at least not in our family. However, we had secret Santa or Kris Kringle, or just plain exchange gift in school. For that purpose, and for years, I wrapped and received boxes of Sour Ball Candies and bars of bath soap. They were the usual kid gifts because they were affordable. But in my immediate family, there was no wrapped gift of any sort. What my parents, and my neighbors parents did, was to buy us our Christmas clothes and shoes. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, we normally got new clothes and shoes only two times in a year - one of that time being Christmas time. They were our Christmas gift and we would wear our new clothes to Mass and during Christmas day.
So on Christmas Day, instead of sitting around opening Christmas presents, we visited our relatives - beginning with our grandparents from either side of the family, so that we could give them our respects and get their blessing in turn. We call this Pagmamano - a custom where the young ones would kneel before their elders, get their hand, and put it on their foreheads in blessing. While doing so, we would say "Mano po, Lolo" (roughly - Bless me, Grandmother or Grandfather - depending on the title of the relative one was seeking the blessing of). We did this not only at Christmas time - we, as a rule, asked for their blessings each time we saw them - but the Christmas blessing is special. Most often, we would receive a shiny coin from our elders/relatives. I was happy when I got a shiny 1 peso coin. Whatever we received would be used to buy some of our personal necessities.
Here I am now, so far away from those Christmases both in time and in space. Many of the things that I recall are still the same, and many have changed. Some practices are still there but have evolved, into what forms, I do not know. I am now embraced by a new practice as I, together with my husband, make new traditions for our children. I doubt if they will have a taste of what I only remember now. But it will be good for them to know - if only through me, their mother.
Peace of soul comes to those with the right kind of anxiety about attaining perfect happiness, which is God. A soul has anxiety because it final and eternal state is not yet decided, it is still and always at the crossroads of life. This fundamental anxiety cannot be cured by a surrender to passions and instincts; the basic cause of our anxiety is a restlessness within time that comes because we are made for eternity.
If there were anywhere on earth a resting place other than God, we may be very sure that the human soul in its long history would have found it before this. ~ Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen