Saturday, December 22, 2012


How did our mañaina celebrate Christmas before the Americans brought us Santa Claus and Christmas trees?

Short answer : Very religiously and without much fanfare.

People didn't string lights around the house (no electricity) or even hang paper lanterns (no need for electricity) as they do in the Philippines (called a farol).

There was nothing "American" about a Chamorro Christmas in the 1800s; no Santa Claus, Christmas trees, wreaths, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer.

Even many Spanish Christmas customs did not make it to the Marianas.  There was no gift-giving either; not even on Three Kings (Tres Reyes).

Very little can be gathered about Christmas in those days from the Spanish documents we have.

Basically, our mañaina went to Mass the nine mornings before Christmas.  All Masses were celebrated early in the morning in those days, since the fasting laws before receiving communion were very strict.  One had to fast from midnight if one were to receive communion that day, so Masses were held from 4AM on.

The Christmas novena (Nobenan Niño) may have been recited in church by a techa, in Spanish, while the people listened (few could speak Spanish; not all could read or write).  Chamorro novenas were few in those days; almost everything outside the official liturgy (in Latin) was said in Spanish.

Those early morning Masses before Christmas were called Misan Aginåtdo (Misa de Aguinaldo, in Spanish).  But they weren't held like the Filipinos hold them; with a sermon expected on all nine mornings, followed by food.

The Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve was called the Misan Gåyo (Misa de Gallo), or Rooster Mass, because it started at midnight and ended closer or even past 1AM, and roosters might be heard.  Anyway, if not literally, the name implied a very early morning Mass, as early as the sound of roosters getting up in the morning.

The mannginge' Niño (veneration of the Infant Jesus) happened in church, but taking it house-to-house was a recent development started just before the war.

Christmas lasted till January 6, Three Kings (Tres Reyes), with different families observing the end of their novenas then rather than on December 25 as other families did.

The belen (Nativity Scene) was probably much rarer in the homes than in the last hundred years of American rule.  Most families had no way of buying the statues needed, as they all had to be imported.  The better-off families, and those with family members and friends being able to travel to Manila, probably had a belen in their home.

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