December 10, 2022

Every Christmas season, I remember my pious mom, Paula who inculcated in me what I consider the true spirit of the season, early in my childhood days.
The following years after receiving my first holy communion, my mom, “Pauly,” as she was also fondly called by her close friends, would wake me and my older siblings up early in the morning to attend Simbang Gabi at the Baguio Cathedral. I had thought before that a cathedral is a bigger size church, as compared to other churches, until my mom taught me that a cathedral is the church where the seat of the bishop, called a “cathedra,” is found. So even a small church is called a cathedral as long as the seat of the bishop, is found there.
I was so excited to attend my first Simbang Gabi as a small boy, but my enthusiasm waned because the sermons (now called homilies) delivered by the Belgian priests on a pulpit raised above the nave, were so long that I would doze off on my seat and my sister beside would nudge me awake. During those early years the priests and the acolytes did not face us but the altar table at the end, unlike today when the table is situated at the center and the priests face the nave where the faithful sit. I remember when the priests and their sacristans would recite the mass in Latin and there was no participation at all by the churchgoers in the ritual except to receive holy communion.
The songs in Latin verse by the choir, as well as, the monotonous chants of the priest and acolytes, added to my sleepy mood. But the church would become alive towards the end of each mass after the final blessing when we joined the choir in singing familiar Christmas songs.
There were no fast food outlets or open restaurants then as there are now many open to cater to Simbang Gabi faithful. So we went home and have our family breakfast of scrambled eggs, longanisa, fried garlic rice and rice coffee. There was also the RDR bottled fresh milk delivered daily right at your doorstep, every morning.
Every Christmas, I remember, too, my dad, Pete tagging me along whenever he would buy a Christmas tree at the Malcolm Square where we would choose our tree from newly cut pine trees laid out side by side by the sellers. The smell of pine filled the air as we would choose which tree to buy. There were barely readymade Christmas decors at that time as they are now, except for some Christmas lights and simple garlands and spruce it up with our homemade decors.
My siblings would join our separate groups in the neighborhood to prepare our carolling which start on Dec. 16, the beginning of the Simbang Gabi. Our “musical instruments” would simply be an improvised tambourine and “maracas” made out of tansans (soft drink crowns) stringed together in a wire, small “drums” of empty sardine cans. We sang Christmas songs until the homeowners open their doors to hear us sing more songs or just hand their “gifts” to our “treasurer” to maybe spare them the agony of hearing similar songs sang by previous carollers. To be sure, we did not stop singing soon as we were gifted unlike other carollers who cut short their repertoire of songs when they received their money and end with the choice of “thank you, thank you, thank you very much thank you!” or “Tengkyu, tengkyu, ang babarat ninyo!”
I recall that there were still the same little children neighborhood carollers like us before we left our house in Aurora Hill. They were not intimidated by the professional carollers with bands and musical instruments or the civic clubs going about their fund-raising activities. I then remembered our barkada called the “Golden Bull Express Barangay” when we would raise funds Christmas carolling for the “gifted children of Baguio” (just one of our naughty episodes that can reach several seasons in a TV series).
I still believe in the elf saying that “The best way to spread the Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
But an American guy who opened the door of his cottage at the Baguio Country Club when he heard us carolling told us off blurting, “Please do not disturb, don’t you know that there is a baby in the making!” So we all left and laughed out loudly when we reached our “rumble car.”
To our surprise, the envelop contained P100, which may be a small amount today but this amount was equal to about P5,000 in our time. But more than this, is the generosity of the man whom we disturbed from the performance of a duty to spread love specially on Christmas.
So why are we sharing these childhood memories to you? Perhaps this could be better explained by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her oft quoted saying that “Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.”
A blessed and meaningful Christmas to everyone! (DEL CLARAVALL)

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