THE NOBENAN NIÑO
My grandmother's sister was a techa. We had a Nobenan Niño every year. First went up the belen. The musty smell of lumut (moss) filled the house. Our belen was a hodge-podge collection of Spanish pieces from over the years. Many were chipped, but nothing too serious. Many pieces didn't match, as newer statues were bought to replace damaged older ones. "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" was one of the first Latin lines I learned, as it was written on the scroll carried by the angel we hung on the roof of the belen.
Many kids from the neighborhood came to our nobena; kids I didn't even know. Word just spread among them. In Sinajaña before Urban Renewal, the houses were a whole lot closer; the streets more narrow. Kids were always playing in the street. "Let's go! That house is having a nobena!" They knelt, fidgeting, for the whole nobena, even though it was in Chamorro, which, by my generation, they didn't understand much.
The draw? The rock-hard candy that was passed out every night after the nobena. Candy that was saved year-to-year. Candy that stayed the rest of the year in a hot closet, melting one into the other.
Sanvitores also made up religious songs in Chamorro to draw them in. Even though I didn't understand Chamorro as a kid growing up at my grandma's house (except the Chamorro words used for scolding me), the Chamorro Christmas carols always stuck in my head. I could sing "Ta nginge', ta adora" by the time I was 5.
Music has a way of touching the soul, beyond words. Some elderly people at the point of death, who can barely say anything, hum a childhood hymn just before sighing their last breath. The visual is also important. I would gaze at the little figurines in the belen, imagining what it would be like to be a shepherd in Bethlehem, or feel the goodness of the baby Jesus. These Catholic traditions can have great impact, especially on the young. Too bad many people have ignored them.
The older I get, the more I realize I am basically who I am now because I grew up in Sinajaña in the 1960s.