Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Year That Was 2013: Christmas Tours and Celebrations

The so-called Christmas break has always been a chance to literally breathe in respite, however brief. Ever since Back Trails began, traveling has become part of this two- or three-week break. And last year was no different. Although not far, neighboring towns are always infinite sources of historical delights (for lack of a better term).

San Pablo City Plaza

From home first. The city plaza has been, in recent years, surprisingly open to the public (see one of the first entries in Back Trails which included the town plaza here: A Visit to San Pablo City Saint Paul the First Hermit Cathedral). The gates before were only open during the week-long Coco Festival during January. Last December the plaza was covered with hundred of blinking lights in celebration of the coming Christmas. I still found it somewhat surprising, seeing people stroll within this space in the middle of the city proper or seat on its stone benches.

Santo Tomas, Batangas

Bus rides have always been fun. So a bus we hailed and alighted on the town of Santo Tomas in the province of Batangas. We naturally gravitated to the town church (which I have covered before; see my entry:  Afternoon Stroll in Santo Tomas, Batangas: Santo Tomas Church Part 3). Besides visiting the interior of a chapel on the side of the church, I ‘discovered’ this marker that is World War II-related, most likely missed out during my first documentation of the church due to many photo taking.

A plaque entitled ‘Memorial’ contained the following words:

“The Parish Church of Sto. Tomas de Aquino, facing the legendary Mt. Makiling, bears a historical memory of World War II-1941-1945, for on its ground men, women, and children courageously faced death with the weapons of savage warface [could probably meant to be warfare -fme] and missile of modern artillery.

“In loving memory of the fifteen (15) Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit who were killed during the heavy artillery barrage in Sto. Tomas, the Alumni and Alumnae of St. Thomas Academy (1920-1945), dedicate this place as a silent tribute to their work as educators and missionaries;

“To the numberless unknown men, women and children who were massacred by Japanese soldiers on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11, 1945, the townspeople of Sto. Tomas highly remember them as harbingers of PEACE AND UNITY.”

On a separate plaque are the names of the sister referred to in the memorial. They were:
  • Sr. Cesaria Arjonilla (American)
  • Sr. Benedicta Diancourt (German)
  • Sr. Isburga Faulstich (German)
  • Sr. Passima Hartelt (German)
  • Sr. Francisceta Hoerth (German)
  • Sr. Ansberta Hoffman (German)
  • Sr. Victimaria Jurcovic (Slovakian)
  • Sr. Richarde Mzyk (Polish)
  • Sr. Aloysius Meder (German)
  • Sr. Celia Molina (Filipina)
  • Sr. Gumberta Piebler (German)
  • Sr. Placida Schofs (German)
  • Sr. Cleophana Schnettler (German)
  • Sr. Adelheida Unterscher (German)
  • Sr. Bernia Weissert (German)

As I write this entry, I believe this historical event is worth studying, the story of their presence in that place and perhaps their individual biographies.

Tanauan, Batangas

A short jeepney ride would bring you to the city of Tanauan. Its church, although still modern-looking (except perhaps the elaborate designs of the door borders; I don’t know if it has a more formal term). One curious item I saw was this charcoal artwork which depicts the Tanauan church with an adjacent building, like a convento or school, I am not sure. A short review of its historical background that the location of the church dates back to 1754 and so this Spanish period structure definitely has basis. Although I am yet to see old photos of the church.

On the town’s ‘plaza’ we found a giant Christmas tree that resembles the town Christmas tree in 2012. But I cannot directly claim that they are one and the same. A short walk would bring you to an abandoned lot with a remaining wall of what could have been a big house.

What could catch your attention are the ‘stones within the paletada. I am not an expert in building materials but they appeared to me as if they are crude stones, not exactly hollow blocks. Better look at them more closely next time. This could probably be part of a big house as I have said earlier. This is probable given the fact the street on which this lone wall is found is lined with big, old houses.

Malvar, Batangas

Next stop: Malvar, a town that is yet to be ‘discovered’ by Back Trails. The town church has resemblance to the church found in Alupay, Rosario, Batangas (see my entry here: Holy Family Parish Church in Alupay, Rosario, Batangas). I have never actually slept inside a Roman Catholic Church, much more slept during a mass. But that was precisely what happened on this visit: dozed off during a wedding ceremony! But still we co-celebrated in the happy nuptials, however silent.

A marble slab outside contained the ‘Decree of Dedication’ of the church to the Immaculate Conception. Beyond this dedication, it is actually public source of the church’s history. From the decree I quote:

“In 1970, a new church rose on this site during the tenure of then parish priest, Msgr. Jose Aquino. Today 16 Sept. 2007, this 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, our newly renovated altar and church are dedicated in behalf of the ecclesial community of this parish during the incumbency of Fr. Virgilio B. Hernandez, its pastor. The rite of dedication is presided over by His Excellency, Most Rev. Ramon Arguelles D.D., Archbishop of Lipa, in the presence of some priest-concelebrants. The parish community, together with the good mayor of the municipality of Malvar Hon. Cristeta Cuevas Reyes, and the parish pastoral council led by Mrs. Teresita A. Ong (President) and Mr. Elpidio Aguilera (Vice President), and guests witness the occasion and participate in the said liturgical celebration.”

(The happy tour ended when that big small came into view. Companions’ shopping prospects won over further travel. Will tackle Lipa again soon.)


I am not exactly an active participant of the so-called Christmas for reasons both academic and religious. But this event, whatever its motivations and supposed origins, gives one a glimpse of our long-acquired traditions and ways of celebrating it. Athough it cannot be denied that this holiday in the country is now heavily influenced by Western traditions, particularly American. Sad but true. History-wise, Christmas reminds me of several scenes in José Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and at the same time makes you more open to the concept of giving than in any time of the year.

Once, we woke up just to get a glimpse of the morning masses held a few days before Christmas: the Misa de Gallo. It was just disappointing to see people selling cigarettes on church grounds. Catholic or non-Catholic, it was quite obvious that it was disrespectful. Pan de Sal gave way to Puto Bumbong which was eaten happily together with a large cup of milk. Add to that another set of meal later in the morning with the hard-to-get (at least in our case) tawilis.

As I close this entry, it seemed more like a truncated Visita Iglesia rather than a Christmas tour. Still, my view stands that this break should be exploited not just for unhampered shopping and arbitrary giving but also to know more of difference places in the country.

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