TRENCHES OF OUR FAILURE
If you were to ask people today about the meaning of Christmas, perhaps some would sum it up much the same way as what the battle-weary men of the trenches experienced on Christmas Day 1914 – peace on earth and goodwill to wards men. But as their hopes were soon dashed by their commanding officers it simply reinforced mankind’s dilemma: How can flawed creatures like human beings, with all of their selfish interests and desires possibly put right a problem that exists inside their very core?
In the tradition of Christianity it is written that by entering the world as a helpless baby, the Son of God, stepped down from the heavenly realm into a world ruined in order to redeem it and provide everyone an opportunity to get it right once again. Since mankind was incapable of restoring itself back into good favour, the Lord Almighty would make a way for the trenches of mankind’s fail ures to be wiped away through the Redeemer.
HARK! THE ANGELS SING!
Long before electric lights were invented, the fields after evening around Bethlehem would have been quite dark. In the Nativity story, it was at this time of the day that the Lord Almighty chose to proclaim an incredible announcement – the coming of the prophesied Immanuel (or in Hebrew עִמָּנוּאֵל, meaning “God is with us“) with the appearance of a very large shining star as a guiding light. The surrounding sky around it filled with a multitude of angels singing praises to the one who was about to come into the world.
The ancients believed that astronomical phenomena such as this event were somehow connected to terrestrial events. Even today many around the world still believe that the world will end in a few days when a star – that is, our very own sun, will engulf earth with a killer solar flare called a coronal mass ejection or CME.
The truth is, according to NASA, Earth’s atmosphere keeps us well protected here on Earth. The only thing we do have to be concerned with is how a CME can damage satellites and even impact the power grid on Earth. Darkness will come, but it won’t be the end of mankind as we know it.
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For Christians, the true meaning of Christmas is that a divine being stepped down from the glory of heaven to become a man; to endure all that living in the ‘mud and trenches’ of a broken world could throw at him and then, to pay the price for all the things that the human race individually and corporately has done that had made the world the imperfect place it is. He later came to be widely recognised as having become the Son of God at the resurrection days following his excruciating crucifixion.
In the Philippines – predominantly Christian nation in Southeast Asia, the two most important milestones in the life of Immanuel on earth – his birth (exem plified by Christmas) and death (during Easter), are highlighted by colourful traditions and expressions that mask the underlying significance of a spiritually-oriented people eager to glorify their God. These annual events are an important part of the devotion of the faithful.
TRANSFORMATION OF THE DIVINE
For Filipinos anywhere around the world, the Star of Bethlehem and the message of hope and redemption it represents is expressed in the tradition of the ‘paról’. Its symbolism illuminates the transformation of the divine one to his human form who in the prevailing darkness proceeds to become the light of a ruined world. It has become an iconic symbol of the Filipino Christmas and is as important to Filipinos just as the Christmas tree is to Western cultures.
Although employment of the paról as Christmas decor is chiefly done in the Philippines, other countries where members of the Filipino Diaspora have settled have also adapted its use. In Austria, for example, paróls are a big attraction in the annual Wiener Christkindlmarkt (Vienna Christmas Market). The tradition was introduced with a ceremonial lighting of 60 paról in a ‘Philippine Tree’ at the Wiener Rathausplatz (the Vienna City Hall Square). The project was a collab oration between the city’s government and the Philippine Embassy in Vienna, which introduced the lanterns in 2006.
In San Francisco, California, Filipino-Americans also celebrate the Annual Paról Festival in December. In Canada, they hang paróls in their party halls during Christmas get-togethers to reminisce their traditional usage of the craft.