How was your Christmas? I hope it was filled with lots of good food and great presents! (And not so many nosy relatives.) I enjoyed a nice, low-key Christmas with my family at my sister’s house in Laguna, with our usual holiday traditions: carving up the Majestic ham with the wrong knife, fruits and queso de bola at the Noche Buena table, and guessing what each present is before opening it (something my mom is really good at).
Aside from these holiday rituals, there’s one Christmas tradition I truly treasure… but it’s not one that I share with my family. And that’s celebrating Christmas at my university, the Ateneo de Manila.
For me, Christmas isn’t complete until I do what I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years, which is sing at the last Simbang Gabi mass before Christmas, on the evening of December 23rd. As part of the Ateneo Chamber Singers (which always sings at the same mass every year), I did this all the way until I moved to Singapore. Even when I wasn’t in the choir anymore, I’d still fly home, make the trip to the university, and sing at mass with my friends.
My Ateneo Christmas always makes me feel that I’ve come home. In fact, my Ateneo Christmas has a home: the university church, the Church of the Gesu. I think it’s one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in Manila, but I may be biased.
It’s illuminated by garlands upon garlands of Christmas lights, strung from the massive trees lining Bellarmine Field in front of the church.
It’s warmed (and fed!) by freshly cooked bibingka—rice cakes with hot butter, salted egg and grated coconut, for my non-Pinoy friends—and light, crisp churros con chocolate.
It’s made beautiful by the gentle faces of the Nativity by the altar, and by the decorations hanging from the highest point of the Gesu’s peaked ceiling. They’re different every year, but they’re almost always in the school colors of blue and white.
And my Ateneo Christmas is filled with music—with songs that I’ve known by heart for years, sung by the beautiful voices of people I love and miss. Their voices really are beautiful, and this time I’m not biased!
It always makes me a bit sad to just be a member of the audience—instead of singing with them for the mini-concert before the mass—and realize that there are songs I don’t know anymore. But I’m just too happy to be surrounded by this music, to really dwell on what I’m missing. And when I do get to add my voice to theirs for the mass, it’s the happiest feeling. It’s Christmas, and I’m home!