FAO FEATURE. December 2011


For the almost twenty-five percent of the population of Hawaii who descended from the various ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines, Christmas in the land of exile is not the same as Christmas in the homeland.

The comparison is real, the nostalgia palpable.

For the many who have had a taste of what Christmas was in the home country, the contradictions of the celebration itself dwarf the message it brings to us: the coming into world of a God-made-man.

The master narrative—the grand story of epic proportion that has informed this practice introduced by the Spanish colonizers largely from the medieval interpretation of the Catholic faith—shaped and formed the Philippine understanding of what Christmas is all about.

It is a story of human salvation—all the salvation announced to mankind by an angel.

In the Philippines, as this story took root across centuries, the folk traditions had their way of interpreting what this was.

This paved the way to the summoning of the indigenous dramatic traditions that eventually paved the way to the ‘panagpadanon,’ or ‘panagpatuloy’ or sometimes known in the Tagalog regions as the ‘panunuloyan.’

Here, in this folkloric rendering into a dramatic genre of the story of the first family looking for a place to stay for the night, we have a pregnant Mary in her full term and Joseph, the saintly man who stood by his wife in thick or thin, that wife who bore a child ‘without knowing any man.’

Versions of this are everywhere in the Philippines, as is the renditions of this in stylize form in the diaspora, sometimes in Honolulu.

Central to the practice of celebrating Christmas, though, is food—and food galore.

The best menus come to town, so to say, in a tongue-in-cheek way, and are laid on the Christmas table.

But this is for those who have the means.

Those who have lesser in life have to contend with some other ways to celebrate Christmas the best way they know how: that aroskaldo, or rice porridge, with margarine to taste, and with some slices of chicken meat thrown in to suggest abundance and celebration.

In schools, there is that almost mandatory gift-giving, that, across the years, has given rise to so many names: manito-manita, grab-bag, or binnunotan.

All these are poor intimations of what is beneath the act of that God-made-man: his act of self-surrender, of getting into the human story by assuming flesh.

It is, of course, the big story Jesus the Christ.

At the other end of the human spectrum of the frenzied lives of people, and their complex wish for happiness is the subtext of commerce and gain.

It is Christmas that has been transformed into bargain sales, discounted rates, and that ubiquitous box wrapped in colorful ribbons, that, if you do not have, will make you less of a person.

This is Christmas turned upside down.

This is Christmas giving in to the power of profit.

At day-end, however, is the constant reminder that with the puto, bibingka, and usual Christmas party, we need to remember: that behind all this is the message: that we learn to give ourselves to others.

For a family in Hawaii, there is no better way of celebrating Christmas other than spending some quality time together.

It is this presence that reveals to us about the salving, the redeeming.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

FAO/Dec 2011

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