Simbang Gabi at Iba Pa

Filipinos are said to celebrate the longest Christmas season in the world. At the start of the “ber” month, the air is filled with carols and people do not take down Christmas decors until the feast of the Three Kings is over.


“Misa de Gallo” (rooster’s mass), or “Misa de Aguinaldo” (gift mass), interchangeably, signals the official start of the season. But why on such an ungodly hour? In the old times, when the roosters crow at the break of dawn, the farmers and fishermen made it their alarm clock to wake up early and drop by the church before going to work for grace and good harvest. Farmers had to be in the field and fishermen had to be at sea before sunrise.

Saint Martin of Tours

From a historic perspective, many festivals have religious origin which entwine cultural significance in traditional activities. St. Martin of Tours has always been Taal’s patron saint since 1575 when the basilica was first buit by the Augustinians in San Nicolas. Taal is considered to be the only town in Batangas not destroyed by the ravage of war. People believed miracles were attributed to St. Martin.

Close to the season of “Undas”, the novena in anticipation of November 11 precedes the big event. Steeped in cultural heritage, pilgrims and devotees traditionally gather at the national shrine of St. Martin Basilica for the special prayer service highlighted by the “Luwa” of selected young boys in praise of the patron saint, known as the patron of children and the poor.

Awed by the magnitude of St. Martin’s importance in Europe and most part of the world, it was serendipitous, to witness and celebrate November 11 away from home. On the eve of St. Martin’s day, one of our hosts, the Langers, treated us to Austria’s traditional dish of the season, roasted goose or “Martinigansl” served with aromatic chestnuts, red cabbage and fluffy dumplings. For many people the meal is just as important as Easter and Christmas dinner.

“Martinloben” is celebrated as a collective festival which include art exhibitions, wine tastings and live music. On the night of November 11, children walk in processions carrying lanterns which they made in schools and sing Martin song.

The holiday mood piqued my curiosity why St. Martin became the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints in the Western tradition, thus, the unfolding of his mystery.

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Traje de Mestiza to the Terno (1890s-1960s): An Evolution

For each decade, detailed outlines of how the national dress was evolving from the folds of the “panuelo” to the volume of the “saya”, even the women’s current hairstyle have been thoroughly researched to come up with a thesis of how the terno progressed.

During a nationwide terno design competition in 2003, Gino Gonzales fresh from New York, a scenographer, exhibition and costume designer was invited as a curator of the exhibit designs.

Dismayed at the turnout of the young designers’ competition, Gino couldn’t fathom how the terno was stylized, the need to reinvent the butterfly sleeves imposed on a western dress was unnecessary, without regard to its cultural background. When the terno ceased to be worn around the end of the Marcos period, it created a gap and vacuum in history where all the young people growing up in that period didn’t have the idea what the terno is.

Running against time, Gino thought of preserving the photographic sources of Philippine costumes in postcards which were fast deteriorating and disappearing. He only wanted to make a small picture book that was easy to carry around. In the process, he sought the help of Sandy Higgins for photos of the 1940s and 1950s for the planned book , while Mark Higgins, the son of postwar designer Salvacion Lim Higgins and a co-director of the fashion school SLIM’s, on impulse offered to partner in a 200-page magazine-size tome.

They presented the picture book to Ben Chan, chair of Suyen Corporation who loved what he saw and asked them to add another 100 pages resulting in a coffee-table book “Fashionable Filipinas” complete with a slipcase. Bench was on top of their list because it has connection with pop culture. It also has a roster of endorsers that could popularize the terno once more. A more affordable soft-bound version will be available, and Bench is donating copies to municipal libraries.

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At the heart of the old central business district of Naga City stands Plaza Quince Martires. A monument once described by historian Ambeth Ocampo as an “elaborate wedding cake”, immortalized the 15 Bicolano martyrs who fought the oppressive colonial government during the 1896 Revolution. Built in 1926, it was designed by Crispolo Zamora and sculpted by Jose Barcena.

The outbreak of the revolution in Tagalog provinces in August 1896 fueled fears among the Spanish authorities that it might spread to other parts of the country particularly the Bicol region. And it did. To counter, Spaniards instituted reign of terror which resulted in the mass arrests of Filipinos suspected of asserting separatist views. On suspicion of abetting a projected rebellion, 11 of the 15 were executed at Bagumbayan, in Manila: