Thursday, January 12, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: Twas the Night Before Christmas

Christmas Eve morning began not surprisingly at 4:00 for me but I was more than ready to get up off "the rack." It isn't surprising because on every single trip to the Philippines, the sleeping schedule has always been erratic with all night overland journeys here, dawn masses there, a midnight mass here, and animals such as dogs, roosters and mating cats howling at all hours of the night. (Yes, I learned on this trip that mating cats can really howl something fierce.) With all this going on, a regular sleep schedules doesn't exist and so when the rooster at the neighbors house had awaken me with his crowing (thirteen times) and then had gone back to sleep, I had stayed awake until I heard preparations for attending morning mass underway.

We trudged up the mountain to the church in the pre-dawn chill where temperatures hovered in the mid-sixties. I found it delightful in a light jacket while the rest of my party where bundled in stocking caps, scarves and gloves, looking more like they were heading out on an artic exploration adventure than just attending mass. The church was a large one with perhaps a seating capacity of 500 or so Filipinos or a dozen small Americans. It was packed but we were able to find a spot to sit in the second row confirming that Filipinos are just like Americans in that they fill the church up from back to front.

I guess it was no surprise when myself, an American, was sitting in a Filipino church and the priest turned out to be a very large Dutchman. (Talking about spanning the globe culturally!) Later, I would learn that it is traditional for Filipinos to give gifts of food and other stuff to the priest during the offertory during every single mass... more than 365 times a year since some days like today had multiple masses. I think the large Dutch priest wasted not any of the gifts of food.

Because the mass was Catholic, it was no different than those found in America excepting the thick Dutch accent. It was in English like most official forms of communications in the country so I could follow along. There were only two major differences that I noticed. The first, in America the crucifixes with the representation of Christ hanging from them are almost angelic in quality where in the Philippines they tend to be more graphic and almost gruesome. Maybe that is why more people in the Philippines attend church regularly than their counterparts here in the states. The second difference comes during communion. In American churches, parishioners receive communion in an orderly fashion normally row by row with those seated in front, the last ones to arrive, going first. Maybe the church feels they are the ones who need it most. In the Philippines, when the priest steps down from the altar, there is just a mass rush as people push forward to receive communion. I was immediately swept up towards the front with little brown people pushing me from all sides as people lined up in front of the altar the entire width of the church. The priest quickly walks back and forth handing out the communion wafers to those in front and then the real struggle begins. Those in front must make their way through the others in the church now stacked almost ten deep and who are still pushing forwards to the front, in order to reach your seat. Because I outweigh most Filipinos two to one, the tend to give me some leeway and the other Filipinos who were in the front and had already received communion would follow in my wake as I made my way through the crowd. I admire the enthusiasm of Filipino people during communion and for the church as a whole especially when compared to the majority of parishioners here in the states that attend masses looking as if they had just woken up. I knew if would be hard for me to muster up enthusiasm when it came to attending the evening midnight mass later on.

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