by Yungib A.V. Ramil
Columnist, No Nangato, Sukdalem
Opinion Section, Page 4
Fil-Am Observer December Issue
I faintly remeber the words of the Ilocano song that my young friends and I used to sing when we went caroling. The message was: "Let's go to Bethlehem; let's go and see the new-born King."
"Intayon"- let's go
This was many years ago in the Philippines. What I hear often today during Christmas is very different: "Let's go to the shoppping center or mall, and see Santa Claus."
To be sure, where I was born and grew up, there were no shopping centers or malls. And I was not introduced to Santa Claus until I started attending grade school. The first Christmas tree that I remember having at home was not a pine tree- it was the branch of a "salamagi [tamarind] tree."
"Pascua" or "Pasko"- not "Christmas"- is the way Filipinos have always celebrated the birth of Jesus. The Messiah. "Pascua" or "Pasko" is a term that related to the "paschal feast" or the "Feast of Passover." The idea that is emphasized in the celebration of the birth of the Messiah as "Pascua" or "Pasko," is that Jesus was born to be the sacrificial lamb to save humanity from sin.
The "Belen," literally "Bethlehem," or "nativity scene," and the "parol" [lantern], representing the bright star that shone over Christ's birthplace, were and are distinctive features of Filipino celebration of Pascua or Pasko. The Christmas tree as well as Santa Claus was not known to Filipinos until the Philippines came under American control in 1898.
When I was young, among the first sign that told me that Pascua was appproaching included my mother preparing figures of Joseph and Mary, and of the baby Jesus, and of the angels, and shepherds, from cuttings of old material. I cannot remember exactly how my mother created animals. However, I remember contributing a cow or ox for the nativity scene by picking some eggplant fruit, sticking into the fruit for cutiing the coconut midriff for legs, sticking one cutting at one end of the fruit for a tail, and sticking another smaller cuttings at another end for horns.
Another sign that told me tha Pascua was near when I noticed my grandfather digging a pit, three or two feet deep, also three or two feet wide, and about four feet long, near the fence at the back of our house. He was also bringing in and piling cut dried wood, tree trunks and branches, near the pit. He was preparing the "kerra ang." Near Pascua time, the cut and dried tree trunks or branches were placed into the pit and turned into burning charcoal, ready for roasting the "tinupig," the specialty rice cake of the Ilocanos for Pascua.
About one or two weeks before Pascua, the whole neighborhood was busy pounding rice, "diket" or "maliket," turning the rice into flour for the "tinupig." All over the neighborhood, you could hear the rhythmic sound of pounding. I remember the "alsong" [mortar] and the "al-o" [pestle]- and also the "panaltagan." The "panaltagan" was a flat ground surface that was made hard by several layers of carabao dung [takki ti nuang]. By age eight, nine or 10, I was helping pound rice, whether on the "panaltagan" or with the use of the "alsong" - and, mind you, I became pretty good doing the "sil-lawat." Give me an "al-o" and maybe I still can do, and show you how, to "sil-lawat."
Making the "parol" [lantern] was something else. The "parol" represented the star of Bethlehem that guided the "Tallo nga Ari" [Three KIngs] on their way to pay homage to the new-born Prince of Peace. The frame of the "parol" was made of split and whittled bamboo [nakayasan a kawayan] and formed in the shape of a star. The frame was then covered with crepe paper. How did we stick the crepe paperunto the bamboo frame? With boiled rice or flour! Yes, we did not have paste or glue like we have today- we used boiled rice or flour!
In all Christendom, the "parol" is a unique feature of Filipino celebration of Pascua or Pasko. The Chinese invented paper, and they brought paper to the Philippines as well as the know-how to make paper. Lamps and lanterns with use paper had been a long tradition among Chinese befor Christianity was brought to the Philippines. However thier lamps and lanterns were not usually in the shape of a star with five or more points. With Spaniards bringing the story of the birth of Jesus Christ to the Philippines, the Filipinos made the "parol"- lantern in the shape of a "star.'
It may be mentioned that during Spanish time, Manila was principal port in the trade of paper that was traded to other major cities of the world, especially those controlled by Spain, originated from or passed through Manila. Remember, the term "Manila paper?"
...Well, what I have been trying to tell you or remind you? "Naimbag a Pascua yo amin. INtayon sadiay belen..." "Belen" or Bethlehem will remind us of the true spirit of Pascua, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb.***