Not a Night for Slumber
Published on December 24-25, 2011 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
Homes in the Philippines are never dull and dark on Christmas eve. Lights and lanterns (parols) brighten every window. The richest food is prepared in the kitchen. The dinner table is set up for the feast. All are dressed in their year’s finest. On the night before Christmas every home is bustling with joy.
Sometime before the clock strikes twelve, the whole family walks to the parish church for Mass. The men bring benches along; the children carry their stools. Experience has taught them that on this night every pew is filled and every space in the nave is occupied. Only those who had come very early will get to enter the church; the rest will have to sit and kneel at the parking lot, following the flow of the midnight Mass over the loudspeakers.
The midnight Mass but heralds the beginning of the celebration of Christmas in the Philippines. None dares to go to sleep just yet, for an old proverb from the Spanish regime reminds everyone: “Esta noche es noche buena y no es noche para dormir.” This night is the good night, proclaims the proverb, it is not a night for slumber. It is the night to keep watch with the shepherds of Bethlehem for the song of the angels from on high (cf. Lk. 2:8-14). It is the night to rejoice “for unto us a child is born, unto us [the] Son [of God] is given” (Is. 9:6). It is not a night for slumber.
It is the night of Christmas when all through the house all would still be up, from the patriarch to the smallest child. They would have gathered after the feast of the Mass (pista ng Misa) to partake of the feast of the dinner table (pista ng mesa). There the family has plenty of food to share: queso de bola (a ball of edam cheese) and pan de sal (bread of salt), jamón (ham) and suman (rice cake), nilagang baka (beef stew) and lumpia (egg rolls). Most of the relatives will come to visit in the morning, but the closest cousins will venture through the lantern-lit streets to give their early Christmas greetings and to get the first plate of what would turn out to be a five course Christmas breakfast.
It is the one night when nobody seems to be bothered about how late it is or that everybody is losing sleep. This night is so good, its joy is so great, that people simply could not and would not wait until the morning to celebrate.
That is why the homes in the Philippines are never dull and dark on Christmas eve. How could they be when it is noche buena, when it is the night that proved to be for the whole world so very good?