What lord has come?

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    ALL ROADS led to Robinsons Starmills Pampanga last Saturday. As they have  for a number of Christmas seasons past.

    Their  point  of  convergence:  the Ligligan  Parul, the  City  of  San  Fernando’s  signature  festival  that  makes  a  truly  magical  night  of  kaleidoscope swirls of lights and colors dancing  to  festive  music  from  brass  bands,  live  or  canned. 

    Better known as the Giant Lantern Festival,  Ligligan is  a  truly  gigantic  celebration  of  the  over-a-century-old  tradition  of  lantern-making  in  the  capital  city,  befitting  its  claim  as  the  country’s Christmas Capital. That thousands of  bewitched  tourists,  local  and  foreign,  trooping  to Robinsons highly affirm. That photo spreads  of  the  lanterns  in  the  front  pages  of  national  papers, that lengthy airtime provided the event  on  national  primetime  TV  and  livestreaming  readily confirm.  

    At the core of the festival though is the fierce  competition  “pitting  aesthetic  and  technical  skills” among the city’s lantern artisans for the  most  coveted  “Best  Lantern  Award.”  Not  so  much  for  the  monetary  prize  –  a  certainly  untitanic P150,000 this year – as for the bragging  rights guaranteed for one whole year. 

    This  year’s  winner  Barangay  Dolores  had  much  more  rights  to  brag  about  –  having  achieved the festival’s grand slam for winning in  the last three consecutive years, and therefore  its  elevation  as  the  first  in  the  festival’s  Hall  of  Fame.

    Truly  mesmerizing  is  the  Dolores  entry,  to  say  the  least.  No  words  can  fully  capture  the  sight  one  beholds  at  each  turn  of  the  hidden  rotor  that  makes  its  lights  wink,  fl ash,  dim,  dance, blink, and scores, mayhaps, hundreds,  more myriad movements.

    Mesmerizing.  Aye,  spellbinding,  the  giant  lanterns are. To the point that they have become  sole attractions, in, of and by themselves. Us,  the  bedazzled,  utterly  enchanted,  thoroughly  tranced, to still bother ourselves with what they,  by their very origin, represented. 

    Pray,  who  still  knows  the  meaning  of  the  Christmas lantern?

    Tell, who cares?

    Might  as  well  be  eons  ago  since  learning  from  my  high  school  theology  professor  –  the  then-Rev.  Fr.  Paciano  B.  Aniceto  –  that  the  Christmas  lantern  took  after  the  Star  of  Bethlehem that pointed to where the Christ was  born and thereby guided both lowly shepherds  and majestic magi to the manger. Thus: 

    After they had heard the king, they went on  their  way,  and  the  star  they  had  seen  when  it  rose  went  ahead  of  them  until  it  stopped  over  the place where the child was. When they saw  the  star,  they  were  overjoyed.  On  coming  to  the  house,  they  saw  the  child  with  his  mother  Mary,  and  they  bowed  down  and  worshiped  him.  Then  they  opened  their  treasures  and  presented  him  with  gifts  of  gold,  frankincense  and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-12)

    Hence  –  the  good  Apu  Ceto  explained  –  wherever  the  Christmas  lantern  is  hoisted,  posted or hung, there the Christ is, there His love  is. The lantern being the Star’s representation.

    Of  all  the  symbols  of  Christmas  –  from  mistletoes and Christmas trees to Santa Claus  and  the  snowman  –  it  is  the  lantern  then  that  has  the  greatest,  if  not  the  only,  theological  value  –  the  sublime  symbolism  of  love,  the  greatest manifestation of God’s love born man  to redeem mankind. Thus:

    In  the  beginning  was  the  Word,  and  the  Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made His dwelling  among us. (John 1: 1, 14)

    Are  we  even  remotely  aware  of  this  when  we ooh and aah in wonderful glee at the giant  lanterns’ kaleidoscopic plays?

    Ay, with the giant lanterns, the medium has  morphed into the very message. 

    Indeed, with the giant lanterns, the symbols  have become the object itself. 

    The essence of the Star not only demeaned,  but  moreso  debased,  defiled.  Cry  blasphemy!  Cry  sacrilege!  But  who  shall  listen?  Who  still  cares?    

    “And  the  people  bowed  and  prayed,  to  the  neon  gods  they  made…”  Simon  and  Garfunkel  sounding  the  silence  of  muted  prophets there. 

    A Christmas past I feel, writing all about this  again, and again. Yet… again.

    So  I  make  myself  nothing  less  than  the  miserly Scrooge, or nothing more than the wily  Grinch  stealing  the  X-mas  present  of  frenzied  shopping  rush  causing  all  those  monstrous  traffic  jams  around  the  malls,  of  compulsive  consumption, offered as it were at capitalism’s  unholy  shrines,  of  the  attendant  cacophony  of  sounds – from the consumer noise to the piped-in carols – fading below the din of tinkling cash  registers,  sweet,  sweet  music  to  the  Forbes’  listers ears.

    Without the Christ, there’s only X-mas utterly  secularized. 

    Without  the  Christ,  there’s  only  X-mas  crassly commercialized.

    Call me the sanctimonious killjoy, the X-mas  spoiler.

    Or Tomas de Torquemada I may actually be,  still, it does not a Christmas make out there.  

    So  we  may  sing  “Joy  to  the  world”  with  all  our lungs, till our voices crack.  

    But then what lord has come to us?

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