December 25th is not really Christ’s birthday. Christmas came from an ancient Roman pagan culture that celebrated “Saturnalia” on winter solstice. Jesus is not in Christmas and never was. Saying these would have my father bop me if he still lives.
My remarks above would have shaken my father’s belief system. He would have branded me as subversive. After he joined the “Cursillo,” a Catholic short course on evangelization that became popular in the Philippines during the 80’s, he became a devout Roman Catholic. I remembered when Pope Paul VI died and the Vatican had to choose the next Pope. My father appeared agitated like a turkey nowhere to nest its egg to get the news from the Radio Veritas, a Catholic radio station. Why there’s no “white smoke” yet? He would ask. What was so important with that “white smoke” that could get my father’s face so wrinkled? I wondered! And then when the radio station announced that the “white smoke” had finally came out from the Vatican, he jumped with joy and shouted “yes” on top of his voice. He became active too in the church’s activities. He joined the Legion of Mary, and attended the weekly “Ultreyas,” a continuing forum for those “Cursillo” graduates to further their skill as “fishers of man”. He led us also to recite rosary every night, where sometimes he interchanged the four sets of “mysteries” to do for the particular night.
Before the “Cursillo,” morphed my father into a devotee, he disliked Christmas. Christmas is money. Nothing emanates from Christmas without money. This feel-good sentiment, happy ambiance, jolly spirit, beautiful emotion, these are by products of Christmas energized by money. Without money, Christmas is dead.
Money was tight during my father’s hungry years. He has been unemployed doing odd jobs just to get by. He was one of the most unfortunate family men I had ever seen in my growing up years. If poverty can be seeds of watermelon, my father had them by the sackful. Starting from September to December of every year, as these “Ber” months’ gears up, and as the Christmas spirits permeates the air; my father would feel the countdown as like an aching drip drip sound of water from the malfunction spigot. My father called the “Ber” months “Berdugo,” because it tortured him.
I remembered one Christmas Eve; my father had only enough money for a half ganta of rice and a cylindrical “Rose Bowl” sardine for our “noche buena.” His self – pride intact, and to avoid destituting himself further, he asked me to buy these foods thinking a 12-year old boy would be still foreign to embarrassment. Awkward and clumsy, the paper bag that holds the rice slipped out of my hand and fell onto the dirt. That was a big dilemma! Should I scoop the rice with dirt? What good that dirtied rice would it serve? Maybe I would just leave it and get home without the rice. But then the rice was for our “noche buena.” I scooped the rice, nevertheless. Arriving home with an ashen face, my father and mother saw what happened. They froze … but recovered. Neither of them got mad. Neither of them spoke a word. They just averted their watery eyes. Good thing the sardine was saved. We still had something for Christmas, albeit my mother divided the three fishes to seven pieces.
On another Christmas Eve, as we had nothing for our “noche buena”, we just slept it over. Towards midnight, however, a bunch of carollers serenaded us with Christmas songs. We pretended we didn’t hear the caroller’s first song. None of us moved to give them money. The carollers belted another one, and another one. Still no one moved. I thought if none of us dared tell them outright, we don’t have money; I suspected they would keep on singing. Worried we would be buried in debt, so I blurted out, “Patatawarin, ho”.
“Ay, me tao naman, pala” I heard one of the carollers said,“E, salabat na lang, amang, kung wala.” My father whispered, “sabihin mo, wala tayong kamote, luya, at panggatong para maluto ang salabat”. The sentence was too long for me to remember. I shortened it to, “E wala rin nga ho kaming luya, e” The carollers laughed and left.
No one knows exactly when Jesus was born. It was not December, for sure. A cold month in Israel starts from December up to February. St. Luke, one of the gospel writers, told us that when Jesus was born, he was laid in a manger, (in an unheatable stable). Luke also wrote that the shepherds who got the message of Jesus birth were in the fields watching their sheep. Laying Jesus in a manger, and the shepherds were in the field watching their sheep, these two incidents couldn’t occur during the winter months. Luke also told us that when Jesus was born, Caesar Augustus, the ruler of Rome decreed that all people should be taxed. Joseph, the father of Jesus, according to Luke, travelled to pay taxes. This couldn’t have taken place in the winter as it would be too severe for people to travel by foot during those times.
In 336 AD, in order to prevent the decline of the Roman Empire, the then Emperor Constantine forced the pagans to be baptized as Christian. Since the pagans outnumbered the true Christian, the feast day’s celebration of Saturnalia remained popular. To obscure Saturnalia’s significance, the Emperor replaced the rebirth of the sun god with the birth of God’s Son, and called the holiday Christmas. As Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, December 25th, became the origin of Christmas celebration.
That’s how I would settle the argument of Jesus Christ’s birthday with my father if he would have been alive today. However, to dispute Jesus Christ’s birthday would really sound nasty as my father named me after him. I was born on December 25th. He could have named me “Saturnalio” or “Solticio,” instead. I doubted if he would ever do that even if he knew what those names represent. The name “Saturnalio” alliterates with Satan. And “Solticio,” emits the image of a sepulcher. I’ll forever curse my father, and wouldn’t forgive him if he had given me any of those two names.
If December 25th was not Jesus Christ’s real birthday, and Christmas celebration was just a compromise or a Christian alternative to pagan festivities of Saturnalia, where is Jesus in Christmas then? This question would probably pose mixed interpretation to my father. It would challenge my father’s belief. Or Jesus in the Christian world really meant salvation and joy. Or he could have thought that the only reason why Christmas tradition continues is because of the business and commerce it brings.