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 overlords. The priests and friars who tended to their spiritual needs 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. It must be with a sense of irony that the Archdiocese of Manila saw fit in recent years, to introduce liturgical norms for the novena, in the form of celebrating Simbang Gabi in the evenings. At first this was due to the limitations imposed by curfews during the years of martial law under President Marcos. More recently, it has accommodated office professionals who can more easily attend after work than before.
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 in 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.
Closer to home, at Chez Alexandre, we have a very colorful parol gracing the front door, one that Sal brought back from the Philippines. It is of the modern variety, made with wire and a type of seashell known as capiz, and illuminated with elaborate flashing lights. 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 in the hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel," but they were originally chanted one verse a day, ending with the day before 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 publish at nine 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' ...]