IN many countries, the first Sunday of Advent today marks the start of the Christmas season. On this first of the four Advent Sundays, the first candle of Hope is lighted on the Advent Wreath, to be followed in succeeding Sundays by the candles of Love, Joy, and Peace. The center candle is the Christ candle. It will be lighted on Christmas Day.
Among Christian Filipinos, Christmas is the most beloved and the most celebrated holiday of the year. Long before Advent Sunday, on the first day of September, Christmas carols begin to fill the air. Giant Christmas trees begin to appear in town plazas and at malls all over the country in the first week of November. Traditional parol lanterns appear along town and city streets and in front of homes.
One of the oldest Christmas festivals in the country is the giant lantern competition among the barangays of San Fernando in Pampanga. There the traditional star-shaped “parol” has been transformed into two-story-tall lanterns with dancing lights, mounted on trucks accompanied by bands and barrio folk in processions, before they gather for the final judging. More recent but swiftly winning many adherents is Tarlac’s “Belenismo,” a province-wide competition on the Nativity scene. Baguio City launched Friday its “Silahis ng Pasko Mardi Gras” along Session Road.
It seems every town has its own big way of celebrating the season.
But Christmas is still truly a religious event. People may have come to see it as a time for celebration with bright lights, festive music, school concerts, lantern parades, caroling, parties, and exchanging of gifts, that they sometimes forget the reason for the season. And this is that Christ was born on Christmas Day. This is emphasized in the Advent Sunday rites today and in the next three Sundays.
On December 16, another beloved Filipino Christian tradition will see people filling up churchyards to hear the first of nine open-air pre-dawn Masses in the Simbang Gabi. These Masses will culminate on December 24. Then comes the Christmas Eve at midnight, ending on Christmas Day.
This is truly a festive season in our country but we must not lose sight of the fact that it is most of all a religious event. We start with today’s Advent Sunday, with its theme of Hope and Anticipation, to be followed in succeeding Sundays by Love, Joy, and Peace. And finally on December 25, we celebrate the day Christ was born in Bethlehem to begin a mission which was to change the world.