A Non-Stop Celebration
Columban Fr. Donald Kill writes about the celebration of the Christmas season at the “Balay San Columbano” home in the Philippines. This home was founded by Fr. Donald to give the children of alcoholics and drug addicts better opportunities in life.
Christmas Begins Anytime After September
Here in the Philippines the Christmas season begins any time after September. One store followed by another will begin to display Christmas decorations. I saw one house already displaying their Christmas lights in late September.
In the prison where I work with those suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, the prisoners are busy making lanterns and stars. They will sell these to earn a meager income for themselves and their families during the Christmas season.
The radio stations begin to play a few Christmas songs every day. The yearning for the Christmas celebration builds day by day.
All Saints on November 1: Gathering at the Graves
You might ask, “Why start so early?” Here, Christmas is more than just the celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25. It is a celebration of family, of life, even new life after death. The celebration begins in earnest on the Feast of All Saints on November 1. Families travel from afar to visit the graves of their loved ones. They travel by air, land and sea to join together as family and remember their loved ones.
December 16: The Christmas Novena Begins
Here in the Philippines, the real heart of the Christmas season begins on December 16 with the early dawn Christmas Novena for the nine days leading up to Christmas. Each morning we get up at about 3:30 a.m. to prepare for the Mass and walk over to the chapel which is about a half a mile away. It is our custom in our village that I awaken the faithful with appropriate Christmas music from 3:30 until 3:45. This allows those who do not join in the celebration of the Mass to go back to sleep before getting up to go to work.
Each morning the Church is overflowing with the faithful, many of whom must go to work at 7:30 or 8:00 am. On Saturdays and Sundays there are at least twice as many worshipers in attendance than our Chapel can hold. Each morning I invite the little children to come up and sit around the altar not only to make more room for adults to sit in the pews and chairs, but also so that they will feel that they are an important part of the spiritual celebration of Christmas.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
Christmas Eve finds us in the Chapel. Each year a group presents a Christmas pageant. It is not a long, drawn out presentation but something to clearly remind everyone why we are together and why we celebrate. Also before the Mass, Christmas carols are sung and usually led by those who have had plenty of practice going around the village and the city caroling to collect funds to help with expenses.
After the Pageant, the Mass, and the carols all go home to celebrate “Noche Buena” or “Blessed Night” dinner. For most folks here this is a rather simple meal. For others, their homes and tables are open to all who come to share in the joy and bounty of the Blessed Night. Many of the families of the students who lived at Balay San Columbano, come to join us for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is always a wonder that we find enough room for everyone to sleep.
The Yearning Builds Day by Day
Christmas morning we celebrate again the birth of Our Savior with Mass. After the Mass I distribute small gifts to the children who have faithfully attended the Novena of Masses before Christmas. The smiles on the faces of the young children are worth more to me than any Christmas present.
Our Christmas season does not end on Christmas Day. The Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family. Most parishes also celebrate with an invitation to the “parish family” to gather at the Church to celebrate being one family in Jesus.
The arrival of the New Year is celebrated, once again, with a Mass that is usually held right after the dinner hour. This allows for the Mass to be completed before the fireworks begin to explode all around. Even after living here for 42 years, I am not yet sure what the fireworks are all about. I don’t know whether they are to chase away the devils of the past years difficulties and problems, or whether they are meant to celebrate the blessing of another year of life that is filled with promise and hope. One thing I know for sure, God has sustained us through the old year; He will carry us through the new.
Feast of the Holy Child: Santo Niño
The Christmas season closes with the Celebration of the Feast of the Holy Child, “Santo Niño.” This feast is a major feast down here in the southern Philippines and celebrated with great devotion. It was first celebrated in Cebu during the time of the Spanish reign over the people. There was a plague that was killing people and spreading all over. While digging in the rubble of an older section of the town, workers discovered an image of the child Jesus. It was carried around the town and people were cured of their illness. We could use some of that healing in our troubled world today.
Let us join in praying that Our Savior’s Peace will come to all parts of our world. The children from the Balay San Columbano home and I pray especially that your lives will be filled with Peace and Love and that God may answer your prayers in a way that will help you most.
Have a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year.
Columban Fr. Donald Kill has been a missionary in the Philippines since 1972.