Carols and Novenas

December 30th, 2020 · No Comments

By Benjie de Ubago

No one celebrates Christmas like we do! Christmas decorations in the Philippines are on display and our parols suspended from rooftops and awnings, shine brightly through the night as early as October. However, the religious tradition starts with “Simbang Gabi” (mass at dawn) nine days before Christmas.  When the devotional masses start on 16th December, the whiff of puto-bumbong and bibingka signals the time to go-a-caroling.

Symbols of a Philippine Christmas.

To say that 2020 was a difficult year is an understatement.  So when, the Philippine Consulate in Sydney initiated “Karoling sa Konsulado” (Caroling at the Consulate) it was a brilliant idea to cure the pangs of homesickness and reap nostalgia.  The goal was one Filipino association rendering a Christmas carol every night until Christmas Day, even if only in cyberspace.  The Philippine Consulate invited associations to sing carols for the community.  One association, one Christmas carol, one night – to lift everyone’s spirits up! It was meant to revive at least one of the Filipino traditions of the season.

But alas, not all must have gone to plan. The true spirit of caroling was forgotten. It felt more like a serious nine day novena.  It was like praying in earnest for the Almighty up there to hear your prayers in the hope that He shall take it all away.

After watching nightly the video, remarks ranged from an “ooohhh”,  “oh, okay”, “hmmm”,  and it progressed to “oh no” and by the 8th day it was “what the..?!” 

Obviously, there were no guidelines for the specially chosen few and the performances were a case “bahala na”. Some sounded like those kids back home knocking on doors that you hand over your “barya!”  A few were pitch perfect but some could not hear themselves and were way off tune. Some were dressed to the nines and yet, some looked like they just rolled out of the pub.  Some had props, most had none.  You could tell that some did give it a lot of thought but for some it was “bara-bara, sige na, puwede na.” Some took the opportunity to promote their club (good!) and others took the opportunity to have a speechfest.   Some dared to defy social distancing and actually met  up and yet some simply zoomed it.

The chosen associations included: Kababaihan Rizalista, University of Alumni Association (UPAAA), Banag- Banag, ADOLP, Knights of Rizal, Filomates, Filipiniana Group of Bathurst and Friends, the Philippine Community Council of NSW, One Pangasinan and on Christmas Day, the Knights of Rizal (North Shore Chapter) were back for their version of “O Come All Ye’ Faithful.”

I personally liked UPAAA’s virtual rendition of a traditional Filipino song “Kumukutikutitap” spliced with the Oblation sites throughout. The Devotees of Our Lady of Peñafrancia were uniformed and sang like real carolers. The Filomates’ representative was pitch perfect  but where were the rest of the carolers? And of course, the Knights of Rizal, North Shore chapter were technically correct.

But now that it’s all over, people have been asking how were the associations selected?  It would seem that there was no rhyme or reason.  Three Rizal associations?!  They might as well have included the Rizal Park Movement to complete the Rizalians.  But what I found perplexing was the fact that those who really could sing were not included.

Most amusing was the staccato soliloquy from Mr.“peek-a-boo” man who stoically stood there minus a smile: “Ako ang pangulo ng Philippine Community Council.”  I wonder if I heard right?  Did he say, pangulo or pang-gulo?  Accents can be tricky but the latter is more apt.

Oh well, we’ll savour the memories of yesteryears until next year we hear Christmas carols.

30 December 2020

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