In a nation where eighty percent of the population is Catholic, Christmas starts early. It has to. After all, you cannot have a feast like Christmas without it being preceded by a novena. That's when you get up to attend Mass just before dawn for nine days before the big day. In the Philippines, it is known as “Simbang Gabi” which is Tagalog for “evening Mass.” It is also known as “Misa de Gallo” which is Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass.”
So why is this series of Masses held in the morning and not the evening, as is customary with Masses for a Christmas novena? The answer can be traced to the early colonial days, when the people would be exhausted from working in the fields all day for their Spanish taskmasters. The priests and friars who tended to their spiritual needed, availed themselves of the people's desire to start the day early, ahead of the tropical heat, and moved the customary Mass and devotion to the early morning, before dawn.
The popular decoration for Christmas in the Philippines is the “parol” (pronounced “pah-ROLL” with a rolling "r", from the Spanish word for lantern, "farol"), which is as common there as the Christmas tree is here in the States. This star-shaped motif is a cross between a Chinese lantern and the Mexican piñata. It is lit from within; traditionally with candlelights mounted inside, but in the last century with electric lights. They are typically two to three feet wide, but if you go to such renowned events as the Fiesta at San Fernando, Pampanga (north of Metro Manila), there is a huge parade to celebrate the beginning -- no, not of Christmas, but of the novena!
Traditional parols are made with bamboo sticks and rice paper. If you go to the site known as “MyParol.com” you can learn to make one, or even order a kit. Better yet, if you can't wait for delivery, simply read the instructions and find what you need at an arts and crafts store. You could have it done next weekend.
I ordered my own kit for the first time this year. Sal is back home for the holidays, so this is the next best thing to her being here.
More on all that later ...
Here at Chez Alexandre, we have a very colorful parol gracing the front door, one that Sal brought back from the Philippines. It is obviously of the modern variety, with elaborate flashing lights, and made with wire and a type of seashell known as capiz. The rest of the decorations will follow, but we had to start out on the right foot (or, should we say, in the right light?).
Now, back to that novena thing.
We here at man with black hat have an annual tradition of honoring the “O Antiphons” the seven chants which introduce the Vesperal Canticle -- the “Magnificat” -- in the Divine Office. Most people hear paraphrases of them all at once in the hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel," but they are meant to be sung one a day, ending with the day before the that of the Vigil. Over time, our annual feature has evolved into its present form, as a comprehensive aid to daily devotion. For just five minutes of viewing during a quiet time in the day, one may contemplate the coming of the God-made-man. The video clips for this unique series are provided by the YouTube channel of francisxcc entitled “The Splendor of Truth.”
As an added bonus, we will provide links for each Antiphon, to Father John Zuhlsdorf's famous commentaries on the same, the link for which will be indicated by the letter “Z” at the bottom of each entry.
They will be set up to publish at six in the morning, eastern USA time, beginning tomorrow. Stay tuned ...
[NOTA BENE: Regarding a reference in the first video, a "barangay" is a municipality within a city; roughly corresponding to "barrio" in Spanish, or "berg" in German" or "borough" in English. New York City, for example, is divided into five boroughs -- Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Same concept, just sayin' ...]