The Christians and the Pagan
By Virginia J. Pasalo
FEWER people attended the fourth Simbang Gabi. Most were still sleep-sitting when a woman shouted, “Oh, no, the baby is falling!” and everyone suddenly shifted their gaze from the floor to her face, and she pointed her lips four pews away from her, towards the direction of a child who was falling down in between the space at the backrest of the pew, unnoticed by her young parents who were, I think, also sleep-sitting.
We began to sing, following the words projected on the screen, some parts of which were changed in the real vocalization by the lead singers. It was also difficult to follow the rhythm of the tunes, and some sang the notes to a high pitch, some sang in low notes. Most of those who attended managed this portion of the mass sleep-standing, pretending to sing.
The priest was saying that December 25 is not really the birth of Jesus Christ. The choice of the birth, according to him is philosophical, and not literal. This was because the church wants to supplant the festivity attributed to the “pagan” sun god (Sol Invictus), to be attributed instead to a festivity for Jesus Christ. Early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world by supplanting pagan holidays so that “pagans” would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.” The Catholic Church did not only adopt the dates, they also converted existing religious temples into churches and adopted “pagan” practices. The Christmas tree, for example, is a medieval practice of the Druids.
But that is no longer about my fourth Simbang Gabi. The priest had moved on to talk about prioritizing between earning money and keeping the family together, about “chairs” being literal, and “empty chairs” being philosophical, and how raising the level of the intellect to the philosophical is more desirable than maintaining a literal awareness. His words escaped the majority of the literal crowd, and the meaning evaporated in the slow spinning of the huge overhead electric fans. I say this because during communion, some people just pushed their bodies in between the lines, like victims of typhoon Yolanda, scrambling for food, except that they were lining up to receive the philosophical sacramental bread.
A “pagan” vendor selling bibingka and puto bumbong said, “Kung puto lang, literal yun, pero kung puto bumbong, philosophical na, mas mataas ang level ng presyo.” He thanked the moon and the stars for the long queue towards his stall. As during communion, some jostled their way into the line, and I wondered how easily some people forget the philosophical consciousness they live by.
“May linya po!” (Fall in line, please!), the vendor shouted.
“Eto bayad ng anim na bibingka, di ko kailangan sukli, paalis na sasakyan namin!” (Here’s the payment for six rice cakes, i don’t need the change, our car is leaving!)
Faster than lightning, the vendor handed the bibingka to the woman waving a Five Hundred Peso bill at the back of the line, keeping the change amounting to One Hundred Forty Pesos.
“Thank you po! Merry Christmas, God bless you po!”
All of a sudden I am reminded of another bibingka, the philosophical recipe prepared by former President Fidel Ramos, the one that is taking so long to bake, and most likely will never bake, under President Duterte.