Saturday, January 16, 2010

January Feasts

An article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer. January is proving to be a very busy month for me, so please say a prayer for my intentions. Also, remember to pray for the victims of the terrible earthquake in Haiti, and, closer to home, the Christians in Malaysia, especially our fellow Catholics, who have been victimized by the majority Muslim population.

January feasts

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:59:00 01/05/2010

Filed Under: Festive Events (including Carnivals), Christmas

IN CHURCH last Sunday, people were told that the Christmas Season was officially over with the Feast of the Epiphany. This explains why Christmas décor promptly returned to storage on Monday.

But our décor is still up because we are too fatigued to handle the clean-up. My excuse is that the Feast of the Epiphany, better known in the Philippines as “Three Kings” traditionally ends on January 6. If that fails, the next excuse will be that the “official” end of Christmas should be this Sunday, the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism. When all else fails, we just shrug our shoulders and say we want the festive spirit to last till Chinese New Year, which falls on Valentine’s Day this year.

Many readers remember me around this time of year for a column I wrote years ago about a friend of my grandparents who was named Circumcision Garcia because she was born when the liturgical calendar still set January 1 as the Feast of the Circumcision. These days, January 1 is celebrated as the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. The former abbot of the Benedictine monastery in Manila and rector of San Beda College, the late Wilfrido Rojo, once told me with a twinkle in his eyes that he used to get a New Year’s Day card from cloistered sisters who greeted him, “Happy Circumcision Day!” Now all that fun is lost. With the change in calendars, we also lose some historical context.

Parents were not very creative in the past. They only picked the names of their children off calendars! For example, Andres Bonifacio, born on November 30, was named after Andrew the Apostle who was ironically one of the heavenly protectors of Spanish Manila. January 6, the traditional Feast of the Three Kings, meant that boys would be named either Melchor, Gaspar, or Baltazar.

On Jan. 6, 1812, a little girl was christened Melchora Aquino. In her old age she provided food and shelter to Katipuneros. Known in the neighborhood as “Melchora,” she is known to all Filipinos and Quezon City commuters as “Tandang Sora.”

The Feast of the Three Kings is a Spanish celebration that did not quite catch on in the Philippines. A relic of this Spanish tradition is still kept by members of Casino Español in Manila where three men in medieval costume ride around in donkeys (I wonder where they get these) throwing candies to children. Last Sunday, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim got into a funny costume and distributed grocery bags to adults. But at least, the Three Kings tradition has a bit more biblical basis than Santa Claus.

This new year in St. Scholastica’s College, and other Benedictine communities for women with German roots, the good sisters wrote, with chalk, on the top of every door sill this seemingly magic formula: 20+C+M+B+10. The numbers represent the new year, 2010, and I was told the letters corresponded to the names traditionally given to the Three Kings (or Magi or Wise Men, depending on the source you are reading): Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar. In the Philippines they are known as Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar, but we cannot use the initials G.M.P. atop doorways because C.M.B. stands for “Christus mansionem benedicat” (that’s Latin for “Christ bless this house.”)

I bought home a piece of chalk from school yesterday to write this on our doorway. I advised my sister to do the same, but she rolled her eyes and declared that she has since given up on all these New Year superstitions. She didn’t chide me for my adherence to tradition, so I kept my peace knowing this same beloved sister always rues that fact that I am always luckier than the whole family combined. Well, nothing is lost and there’s everything to gain in writing a simple formula on the doorway with chalk, right?

January is also the time when we see two images of Christ venerated by the multitude. This Saturday, January 9, there will be frenzy in downtown Manila as barefoot male devotees from far and wide converge on Quiapo (this year also the Quirino Grandstand) for the Feast of the Black Nazarene. An ancient image of Christ carrying the cross taken to the Philippines from Mexico will be brought out of the church for his annual rounds through the small streets of the city.

January is also the month for another image of Christ, the Santo Niño, whose origins go all the way back to 1521 when the Queen of Cebu (name unknown) was baptized and christened Juana (for the Spanish Queen known in history as “Juana la loca” or “Joanna the mad”). She asked Magellan for a present and he showed her two images: that of the Virgin Mary and that of the Santo Niño. She chose the latter, and that image is venerated in Cebu to this day and has spawned others from Tondo to Ternate, Cavite.

In the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat lies yet another image of the Christ Child better known as the Santo Niño de Praga, which is venerated on the last Sunday of January.

There is so much in our culture and tradition that remains despite all the changes in the liturgical calendar. It is always good to take stock of the past as we confront the future, and one way to do that is to revisit the various feasts in old-style calendars, the ones printed on newsprint in blue and red complete with the phases of the moon. Revisit these to get a sense of why we are the way we are.

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Enbrethiliel said...


Ambeth Ocampo is a treasure!

I have a relative who used to be closely involved with the Quiapo Cathedral and who still holds a grudge against Ocampo because of the latter's unwillingness to declare that the Nazarene had been in the Philippines for a certain number of years. (Apparently, the historical documents didn't back up the assertion.) Yet I've always found him informative and interesting!

Archistrategos said...

Hahaha, apparently he's a persona non grata in San Juan! The story goes that he went there at 2am to remove the plaque commemorating the city as the site where the Philippine American War started. It was apparently at Santa Mesa and not San Juan where it started, but the people from that city opposed having the historical marker taken, as they thought it would devalue their city. He never fails to tell that anecdote to his students at the Ateneo hehe.