by Kevin Joshua B. Cosme
Christmas Party 2019 | Advent can get pretty crazy in the seminary, but not as crazy as how this year has been.
Advent is one of the most exciting seasons in the seminary. Not only does it hold the promise of a coming Christmas break, it also means busting out the Christmas decorations! After being stowed in the bodega for an entire year, the dusty old boxes of Christmas ornaments are brought out once again for use by eager, coughing seminarians. Nothing says “Advent” quite like “asthma”.
We would set aside a certain day before the First Sunday of Advent to decorate portions of the Theology building’s interior by class, so each section would have its own artistic style and Bluetooth speaker blaring out Pentatonix Christmas songs.
The creative people immediately set out hanging the lights and decorations, allowing their aesthetic sense to guide them toward the gradual coming together of a seasonal masterpiece, while the not-so-creative people like me end up scratching our heads, wondering if we put up too many Christmas balls on the bulletin board. I usually just give up and settle with sweeping the floor, but it’s to the peppy tune of Sleigh Ride and the playful banter of my classmates, so it’s all good.
The result is stunning. In the span of a few hours, the Theology hallway is transformed from plain academic corridor to glamorous hotel lobby (kinda). Seriously though, it may not be Makati Shangri-La, but it’s amazing what seminarians can do with a bunch of string lights, colorful plastics and a whole lot of Christmas cheer.
Here We Go Again
Another thing I love about the season is the creative Advent traditions we keep. Most of them are prepared ahead of time by a Kapatiran, with everyone joining in after dinner nearly every night. (A Kapatiran is a group of theology seminarians from different year levels who live in adjacent rooms and who serve as your faith support group usually until you finish Theology).
We used to have several of these traditions but they were eventually whittled down to a handful, partly because they took too long to finish. The ones that remained unsurprisingly turned out to be the most meaningful.
Photo taken from papemelroti.blogspot.com
Not Your Typical Christmas Tree
Of these, the Jesse Tree is one of the more memorable. The Jesse Tree is usually a smaller, separate tree than the Christmas tree, but instead of lights, balls, and ribbons, it is ornamented with handcrafted symbols that represent the major players, prophecies, and events in the history of salvation. So it’s like the Bible in abridged form, laying down the backstory that culminates in the birth of Jesus.
The activity opens and closes with a short hymn. Although we sing it night after night, we never really manage to get the lyrics right. We start off relatively well, confidently singing “O Jesse tree, O Jesse tree” (like how you would sing “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree”), and then mumble the next lines in bemused, collective forgetfulness.
Then a sharer comes forward. Each seminarian is assigned a bible verse and a symbol that he has to make a three-dimensional representation of, which he hangs on the Jesse Tree after saying his piece. You really get to see a brother’s creativity in full display with this, or his hilarious lack thereof, because the symbols range from artisan-level craftsmanship to literal stick-on-a-string.
As for the reflection, usually, the longer and more winding the delivery, the more likely it is that he didn’t prepare (like a homily, amirite?). But mostly the reflections turn out great. Some will have you in stitches, others will give you pause, and still others may leave your in tears. After about three rounds of reflections, a senior theology seminarian leads the closing prayer. Then the poor mumble-song makes a comeback.
A Touching Reunion | Bro. Edu Puno greets Fr. Benedicto Jayoma, the priest who baptized him. This photo was taken from the Christmas party we held for the retired clergy of Cardinal Sin Welcome Home in Sampaloc, Manila last year.
Good Deeds Galore
There’s another Advent tradition that I like but which nobody really knows the name of. Yes, it’s wholly possible to spend five years in Theology and be none the wiser for it. Let’s just call it the Good Manger.
Once the other Advent traditions for that night have been held, people line up to (or flock around) a bowl containing thin strips of paper. They draw one out and read the good deed they have to accomplish at a time of their choosing. Good deed done, they drop the slip of paper into a manger and then wait for that night’s set of traditions to take out another slip.
So when you see someone hauling up a filled water container for the dispenser out of nowhere—and quite out of character—alam na. It’s also during these times that people greet you randomly down the hallway, or even treat you out to merienda. Much appreciated? Definitely. Done out of the goodness of their hearts? Doesn’t really matter because free food.
The good deeds are formulated by the Kapatiran assigned to spearhead the tradition. Thankfully, I’ve yet to encounter an injunction to “Clean so-and-so’s room” or “Help with Mister-Wise-Guy’s term paper”. Instead, I’ve suspiciously found myself mopping the bathroom floor a little too often in the evenings. Siguro may hindi makatulog ‘pag madumi yung tiles.
But when the night arrives for us to witness baby Jesus being set down on the Good Manger, I find myself smiling at the cradle we prepared for him. Instead of rough hay, he now lays in soft white fluff, a nest gathered from our deeds of love. I imagine baby Jesus smiling in return and I think to myself, “All that mopping was worth it.”
I miss spending Advent in the seminary. I’ll never get to awkwardly hang Christmas balls in the building again, or craft a sorry excuse for a symbol to go with my sharing, or experience the nightly satisfaction of mopping tiles, but that’s okay. From seminary life to life back outside, the old must give way to the new, like Advent must give way to Christmas.
Should Have Bought One for Myself | This was my exchange gift last year for one of my Kapatiran members. This mug could have been the poster child for the year 2020.
I look back on these memories with fondness and take their cheerful, hopeful spirit with me to the closing of this topsy-turvy year. It’s not like the first Christmas was celebrated with nothing but light and mirth. The circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth were harsh, so isn’t Christmas this year more meaningful for being closer to the original?
The times were far from ideal, and yet the Savior was born, and yet the angels sang. We also have reason to sing, “Gloria!” For however great our troubles or insurmountable our fears, our coming Emmanuel is greater and mightier still.
A blessed Christmas to all!