Misa de Aguinaldo: what do you wish for?

Tomorrow, December 16, starts the official observance of Christmas season, which will last until the Epiphany, or during the commemoration of the Magi’s visit to the Child Jesus.

Simbang Gabi

In the Philippines, the celebration commences with Misa de Aguinaldo or Simbang Gabi, a reverential nine-dawn Masses practiced by both the Roman Catholics and Aglipayans in deference to the Blessed Virgin Mary as they anticipate the birth of their Savior, Jesus Christ.

The liturgical importance of Christmas stems from the Season of Advent, the time when believers spiritually prepare and purify themselves to be worthy to receive the Child Jesus. Simbang Gabi, which literally means Night Mass, is actually done as early as 4 o’clock in the morning.

ParolDuring the Christmas season, Filipinos adorn their homes with colorful star-shaped lanterns called parol. Many, if not most, of which are personally hand-crafted according to the owner’s desire. The parol is traditionally believed to serve as an illumination for the parishioners in making their way to the church.  Also, during this period, children and adults alike would go from house to house singing Christmas carols in exchange for an amount of money or goodies.

Many Filipino Catholics believe that if a parishioner who makes a wish during the dawn Masses and is able to complete all nine dawns of the Simbang Gabi, his or her wish would come true. This has been a centuries-old belief that is still kept alive even up to the present.  Many priests, however, observe that only the first and the ninth dawn of the Simbang Gabi seem to have the greatest number of church-goers.

KakaninSimbang Gabi culminates on December 24 or Christmas Eve, which is called the Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Gifts. Shortly after the Misa de Gallo, families gather together in their homes for the Nochebuena, or the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, where they feast on local delicacies and some conventional dishes, like lechon (or roast pig), fried chicken, hamon, pancit, lumpia, fruit salad, spaghetti, quezo de bola, and a lot more.



The history of Simbang Gabi in the Philippines can be traced back to 1669 during the early days of Christianity. Since the Christmas season was also a harvest period, it was customary to hold thanksgiving novenas in the evenings. But the priests noticed that, although still enthusiastic to participate in the Mass, their parishioners, especially farmers, were already tired after a day’s work. And so, the Spanish friars decided to begin the Mass very early in the morning, instead, to allow farmers to participate in it before they proceeded to their fields.  

Since then, this important Christmas tradition became a distinct Philippine culture and recognized as a symbol of sharing. After each dawn Mass, Filipino families, and even individuals, would share different traditional Christmas foods and drinks, such as bibingka, or rice cake cooked in clay stove; puto; suman; tsokolate; salabat or ginger tea; kape (coffee) and; other regional delicacies.  

The reason why most of the pastries were traditionally made of rice or carbohydrates was to fill the stomach of farmers before they proceeded to their farms.  At present, however, other delicacies are prepared and readily available at the church’s premises for easy access to parishioners.

Coconut oil: effective prevention of hair fall

Coconut oil is, perhaps, the most useful product Nature has ever produced.  From dessert toppings, to floor wax, to natural healer, and even to beauty treatment: name it, and this mighty coconut oil has probably something to contribute.

Coconut oil

In my previous post, What Lies Beneath Hair Loss?, I mentioned some possible causes of hair fall or hair loss. Now, it’s time to talk about how to treat such problem the natural way.

Even as it is important to seek medical advice on your condition, you can also turn to natural methods on treating you hair fall problem.  I particularly recommend the use of coconut oil as one of the best remedies to prevent hair fall and to promote its growth. Aside from being cheap and natural compared with the laboratory-concocted treatments, coconut oil is packed with these essential properties, such as:

Lauric acid.  This is a medium-chain fatty acid that protects the roots of your hair and prevents it from breakage. Studies reveal that coconut oil has the ability to reduce and prevent loss of hair protein more effectively than what sunflower and mineral oils do. Coconut oil is the richest source of lauric acid, containing around fifty percent of the substance.  To ensure your scalp is free of dandruff, split ends, lice and lice eggs, make it a habit to massage your head with coconut oil from time to time.

Antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Aside from lauric acid, coconut oil also contains two other fatty acids – caprylic, and capric acids – that are known to work against fungi. Meanwhile, its monolaurin component has an antibacterial property that effectively fights against bugs.  All these properties of the coconut oil are powerful against dandruff and lice, two of the contributing factors that hinder hair growth. Studies have proven that coconut oil works effectively as a natural treatment of head lice.

Essential nutrients.  Coconut oil is proven to be an effective source of vitamins E, K, and iron, which are essential for maintaining luster and softness of your hair.  Again, vitamin E works effectively against dandruff.

Moisturizer.  With regular application of coconut oil, you can expect to have a strong and moisturized hair because the oil penetrates into your hair shaft and conditions your mane from the inside. At the same time, it protects your hair follicles from heat and harsh weather conditions.

Promotes better blood circulation. By massaging your scalp with coconut oil you significantly promote blood circulation and consequently allow essential nutrients and oxygen into your hair follicles; thus, making it healthy.

How to apply coconut oil on hair

Depending on your personal preference, you may apply coconut oil either before or after washing your hair. Personally, I do it at least 30 minutes before shampooing.  For those of you who have slightly wavy (like mine), or straight hair, I suggest that you treat your hair with coconut oil before washing it.

But if you have rather thick or curly mane, you may apply the coconut oil either before or after washing it.  Don’t worry about getting greasy-looking hair because curly hair tends to absorb oil quickly, so you would not end up with too sticky-shiny hair.  Be aware, however, that some types of hair, particularly the protein-sensitive, do not fare well to post-wash oil treatment.  You better consult your doctor on this first.

Some people ask whether it is more effective to heat the coconut oil first before applying or just have it at room temperature. Basically, it produces the same effects.  However, since coconut oil can coagulate in lower room temperature, it makes sense to have it warmed a bit before using.  Be sure, though, to not heat it too much as it can damage your scalp.

Coconut oil application before shampooing. Apply a generous amount of coconut oil onto your scalp  and gently massage it in circular motion for at least five minutes.  Give particular attention to your hair strands. Leave the oil on your hair for at least 30 minutes. If your hair fall problem is severe or if your concern is hair breakage, you may let the oil on for two to four hours.  Then, wash your hair off with regular shampoo.

Oil application after shampooing. If your problem is more on dry hair or split-ends, apply a little amount of coconut oil two to three inches towards the tip of your hair. But wait until your hair has completely dried out before applying.  The oil will be quickly absorbed by your hair and makes a protective coat around the hair strands.

What lies beneath hair loss?

People tend to panic when they experience hair loss.  After all, hair is a reflection of our identity. It is even, almost always, associated with self-esteem.  For women, it’s also a symbol of femininity.  

Hair fall

I once heard a breast cancer survivor who said that the chemotherapy sessions she had did not scare her much more than the thought of losing her hair.  And, she was talking about hair falling out in clumps.

While it is normal to shed around 50 to a hundred strands of hair each day, seeing one’s hair thinning or going partially into baldness can be a frightening situation for many, if not most, women. But don’t fret yet if you are shedding more than 100 strands because dermatologists also say that a normal person can shed up to 250 strands when hair is washed.  But they do not, however, advise that you should not wash your hair at all because it will eventually fall, anyway.

Women are almost as likely to lose hair as men do; although, it can seem to be more prominent in men. Normally, women would notice the problem in their 50s or 60s, but it can happen to younger women, too, for a variety of reasons.

One of these reasons is chemical or medical treatment for an ailment. Women can suffer hair fall after childbirth, during or after menopause, when exposed to nuclear radiation, having nutritional deficiency, stress, or due to other factors.

Hair fall after childbirth is a common occurrence because of women’s hormonal changes after pregnancy.  This temporary problem usually happens around three months after delivery and should return to normal condition within six to twelve months.

Meanwhile, women in their menopausal period may experience hair loss as their estrogen levels drop and other hormones, such as the dihydrotestosterone (DHT), get imbalanced, consequently affecting hair growth.

Other women may also suffer from hair loss due to their exposure to X-rays, nuclear radiation, anti-cancer treatments, insufficient nutrition, pneumonia, typhoid fever, flu, or stress.  Yes, stress can be associated with hair loss.  But this do not necessarily have to be permanent if and when you keep your stress level under control.

There are at least three types of hair loss that can be directly linked to high stress levels, namely: alopecia areata, telogen effluvium, and trichotillomania.

Alopecia areata is an acquired skin condition that involves white blood cells attacking the hair follicle, consequently causing hair to fall out and preventing it to grow. Although, some findings trace that this disease can be inherited from ancestors, alopecia areata may be due to severe stress, abnormality in the immune system, and other factors.

Telogen effluvium is a scalp disorder marked by diffuse hair shedding, resulting from emotional or physical stress.  Hair may fall out suddenly by just combing or washing your hair.  However, if promptly tended to, you can recover naturally within six months.

Trichotillomania is rather a mental disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to pull out hair from the scalp, eyebrows, or other areas of the body.  It is more common in adult women and among children, who have to deal with negative or uncomfortable feeling, such as anxiety, tension, stress, fatigue, frustration, or loneliness.

If you notice that you are shedding more strands of hair than normal, make sure to consult with your doctor. It might be a sign of an underlying health condition that needs medical attention.  But you can already start using natural or home remedies to prevent your hair from further falling out. Among the best remedies for hair fall is the use of coconut oil.

What’s next?

Practicing Resurrection

There’s a wrap-around advertisement from Monsanto on the cover of the October edition of Successful Farming magazine.  The text of it reads:

What’s next in weed control technology?  Roundup Ready 2  XTend Soybeans.  An advanced soybean product with tolerance to dicamba and glyphosate.  Xtend your control.

(in small print at the bottom) Pending regulatory approvals. Not available for sale or commercial planting.  

I’ve blogged often about how the use of Roundup (glyphosate) on genetically modified crops has led to the emergence of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds.”  Nature is amazingly resilient like that.

This hasn’t hurt Monsanto’s profits, however.  Now they can sell more glyphosate than ever, as farmers who have become dependent upon it now have to apply it in heavier and more frequent applications.  And of course it creates a market for new products, like “Roundup Ready 2 XTend Soybeans,” genetically engineered to be resistant to dicamba as well as…

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Impact of slander: what is your responsibility?

It is unfortunate how we could be so tactless at times, unleashing words that can hurt – or worse, destroy – other people. Religious, political, cultural, and social bigotry are often the issues why we tend to be biased against other groups that don’t belong to our own.  The tragedy that happened in Bohol and Cebu brought both empathy and indifference from different sectors.  What made it painful to bear for the survivors was not much on the physical devastation that they suffered from the earthquake, but the insensitive remarks of some sects and individuals.

Bohol earthquake
Survivor of the earthquake in Bohol fleeing from the area.

By God’s grace, I was so fortunate to be 264 kilometers away from the epicenter of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol, Cebu, and other parts of Central Philippines and Mindanao in the early morning of October 15, 2013. What I felt only at 8:14 of that fateful morning was a slight swaying of the earth beneath my feet that lasted for about a minute, enough to make me feel dizzy..  

But my heart goes out to the Boholanos and Cebuanos who had to brace up against falling objects and buildings, possible breaking of the ground, and the threat of tsunami. Good thing authorities quickly ruled out the possibility of tidal wave.

It is heart-breaking, however, to know that some lives have to end and scores injured as buildings crumble over them. Ancient structures, specifically churches, that have withstood all kinds of weather over the centuries ultimately gave way. The over a hundred aftershocks left thousands, including some of my loved ones and relatives, sleepless and fearful.  Even the idea of going to the bathroom was terrifying for some because the aftershock can occur anytime.

The bell tower of the Basilica del Sto. Nino in Cebu City: photo on the left shows it before the tragedy happened; while the photograph on the right shows the destroyed bell tower.

Salt on the wound

After the tragedy, not only a few wondered whether this calamity is God’s punishment on sinners.  It is so unfortunate how some sects and cults could readily point their fingers at Catholics as the cause of the tragedy, accusing the latter for being “pagans” and “idol worshipers”. They readily conclude that the collapse of centuries-old Catholic churches is a sign that God’s wrath has finally fallen upon the people.

Other insensitive individuals, meanwhile, jeer at and curse the Visayan people, apparently discriminating them as inferior than the Tagalogs of Metro Manila and other parts of northern Philippines.

Although, these kinds of religious bigotry and regionalistic mentality is confined only among a minority, who may have been wanting in attention, their words were somehow “salt on the wound”.

Yes, it profoundly hurts to hear all those negative remarks from no less than fellow Filipinos and pharisaical Christians!  Slander, indeed, can be very demoralizing. It is a shame how this only Christian nation in Southeast Asia can be so prone to slander.

By  your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.  (Matthew 12:37)

Slander is an ancient vice

Insensitive remarks and insults are not new to us, actually.  People in the ancient times got entangled in the vicious circle of slander and false accusations.  Some evidence of this are even found in the Bible, where prophets of the Old Testament, and Jesus Himself, had to constantly exhort believers to be careful in their speech, for the tongue has the power of a two-edged sword. It can either make or break a person.

The morale and reputation of a person can be greatly scarred and tainted by our irresponsible and careless remarks. And sadly, all too often we fail to recognize the scope, depth, and seriousness of what we say.

But believing in the resiliency and integrity of the Filipino people, I know the “Bisaya” will rise above all these life’s trials and would not wallow on put-downs.

And to those who have nothing good to say about others, please just keep your mouth shut!

After Yolanda: it’s time to rebuild

After the storm has gone, it’s time to get back up again.  Life must go on.  The Filipino spirit of resiliency must work.

November 8, 2013 is the day of horror for many Filipinos as super typhoon Yolanda (internationally known as Haiyan) ravaged through the Visayas region in central Philippines, leaving behind thousands dead, numerous wounded, and still unaccounted for missing persons. The whole world sympathizes in so any ways – from financial aid, material support, facilities, to manpower volunteers.  And for this, I personally thank all you – actually, I cannot thank you enough – for your quick response to help us.

Now, it’s time for us, Filipinos, to rise above the circumstances.  As we rebuild our homes, let us also rebuild our broken hearts and wounded lives. Yolanda may have destroyed our homes and taken what we have had, but certainly it has neither taken away nor flushed out our faith in God (I hope nobody gives in to temptation).  

The fact that we have survived the tragedy means we still have a purpose in life.  We must carry on. I know this is easier said than done, but we have to try even if takes an inch at a time.  After all, we have been known to be a people of great resiliency and integrity.  Let’s get back up again and move forward!

Neighboring countries and strangers have reached out their helping hands to us.  Let us also respond positively to it by holding on to hope and showing them that we can start all over again. We need to be strong.  If our government fails us in some ways for not doing enough as we expected them to be, let us not wallow on that bitterness. Actually, the government is always there to support and assist us.  It is up to us to decide if we are willing to get back on our feet again. 

Reconstruction of infrastructure can be done by so many hands in a short period. But the rebuilding of our lives is a matter of personal choice and the pace depends on our ability to cope.  Leave behind the resentments, and stop blaming anybody else for our predicament. Life is too short to be spent on anger. Let us start all over again.  Only we can make our lives better if we want to.  Let us make use of the assistance we receive from our brethren to move on rather than just depend on it for daily survival. God has given us the gift of resilience, so let’s capitalize on it.

Bangon Visayas!  Bangon Pilipinas!



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