Cast out into the deep: missionary reflections (2003 – 2010)

Fr. Sergio Fossati, PIME

How are you supposed to call it Christmas without snow and the familiar, traditional atmosphere? I would soon discover. By the end of October, the typical Filipino Christmas decorations called “parols” were for sale all over the country, from the big commercial centers to the smallest street booth. Parols are skillfully crafted, multicolored, paper star-shaped lanterns with a light bamboo frame. It is the Christian symbol of the star that led the Magi to Bethlehem. By the end of November, they were hanging at every window and door, so colorful and in many sizes.

Two weeks before Christmas, almost every evening, several groups of children used to knock at my door joyfully singing Christmas carols and they would not leave until I gave them candies or a handful of pennies. The most notorious carol was Pasko na naman! (It’s already Christmas!). The musical instruments they used were ingenuously made from coconut shells, seashells, split bamboo, bottle-caps and tin-can ends.

For nine days before Christmas, between three and four in the morning, people would gather to celebrate the Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster). A similar tradition is found in Central America. After Mass, while it is still dark and cool with a temperature already in the high seventies, baskets full of puto (steamed rice cakes) and bibingka (rice loaves) were offered together with hot coffee or cocoa.

And, of course, the ever-present shapes and sizes of Santa Claus! But it was quite evident that dear old Santa looked so “out of place” in a tropical area with his long white beard, winter dress and reindeers! Instead, what really drew my attention was something so simple, so ordinary that it could have been easily missed. Noel and Leticia had their first son just days before. Their small hut was made from bamboo with a thick roof made of dry palm leaves. Inside, little Loloy was resting wrapped in an old blanket. Few chickens, a dog and a piglet shared comfortably the family space, inside and outside the hut. All the right ingredients for a live nativity scene!

This is the secret of Christmas. Who ever could have imagined that God became one like us in such an ordinary and simple way?