a christmas story…sort of

Posted: December 22, 2008 in my favorite runs, myphilosophy, running
Tags: , , ,

It was always a race between the rooster and the church bells.

On most days, the rooster won. He’s had far more practice than the bell ringer, after all, making early morning announcements.

Four in the morning is when the bells start ringing to invite the faithful (and the hopeful) to mass. And long before the sun makes its appearance in the sky, the children in our neighborhood would already be gathering outside in the streets. It is time for the misa de gallo, the mass of the rooster; the nine days of pre-dawn masses that ushers in Christmas day in our part of the world. By four thirty in the morning, we make our way up the hill.

daragachurch1Our church lies nestled on a hill.  It was built in the 17th century under the supervision of Franciscan missionaries. It’s a beautiful church. On its volcanic rock facade you will find elaborate carvings and extensive ornamentation. It was built to replace the Church of Cagsawa, the old church that was unfortunately buried by lava along with about 1200 people during one of the Mayon Volcano’s eruptions.

Our town is called Daraga (dalaga: the young women). There are many stories about how the town got its name. This is the one that rings closest to the truth. It took many, many years to build the church. It was a gargantuan undertaking needing the help of the entire community. The builders, the carpenters, the masons (mostly men) were the ones in charge of laying the foundation and building the structure. They stayed on top of the hill. The women, the ladies and the children, they settled at the base of the hill. They gathered the heavy volcanic rocks (which was plentiful below) and helped the men roll it up the hill to where the church’s foundations lay. Hence the settlement at the base was called DARAGA.  Daraga: the place where the women were.

The first church, Cagsawa, was built right at the base of the Mayon Volcano.  The town fathers (and mothers) having learned their lesson from the disaster that buried Cagsawa church, decided to build the new church away from the disaster zone. At the foot of the hill, on the valley facing the volcano, you will find the catholic cemetery. On the other side, in the valley sheltered by the hill, you will find the center of our town, Daraga. The reasoning behind this is  simple and straightforward:  The Mayon Volcano is still a very active volcano. Should it choose to erupt once again (and it has, many, many times since then)  our town would at least  have the hill and the church to protect us.

Only one road leads up to the Church. At one end of this road is my father’s house. Just across the street from their house was my mother’s. My parents have been friends since they were 9 years old. They were playmates. And they were neighbors.  They were raised to be very good Christians. As children, they were taught to love their neighbors. Both being over-achievers in this department, they did one better. They not only loved their neighbor, they also married them. My parents have been married 36 years. They’ve been best friends for 50. My father’s house is the house we grew up in. It’s still the place I call home.

They say that our lives revolve around certain patterns.  Here is one I recognize…

As a child, my Christmas season would begin with the crowing of the rooster, closely followed by the melodic tolling of the church bells. The children in the  neighborhood  would gather into the streets and we would race up to the top of the hill.  When we were young,  it seemed like a very long stretch of road. It’s actually less than a kilometer long.  To get to the church, you take that one road and head out towards the town’s main road also known as the national highway (2 lanes).  You cross that highway and then  you head up the winding incline until you get to the very top. There you will find our church.  The hill affords a vista of the town below, the magnificent Mayon Volcano to its side, and further out, the sea and the Legazpi port.

At this time of the year, and only at this time, the stars above are rivaled by the blinking yellow lights lining the otherwise dark streets below. Christmas lanterns wave and sway in front of most windows. Some are simple star lanterns made up of colored wax paper, others are far more intricate, they are made of  a mix of dyed shells and wires.

On the climb up to the church, the women would take to the sidewalks with the carved out steps.  As children, we preferred the dark and narrow asphalt road beside it. At this time of the day, we had it mostly to ourselves. We would zoom up that road incline and race each other. Our grandmothers, our mothers, our aunts and even our nannies would walk this stretch slowly behind us, enjoying December’s crisp morning air. They would massage their shoulders with their arms as they exchanged stories, they would rub it fast up and down to get more warmth into their bodies. And then they would pull their shawls more closely around their bodies. Once in while, we would hear our grandmothers or our nannies shouting out words of caution or reprimands or shushing us to be a bit more quiet. But most of the time, they let us be. We all made our way up that hill just before dawn. The church waiting for us on top would be warm and brightly lit. As one community we then gathered together in prayer and in thanksgiving. There would be shared stories at the pulpit, sermons and hymns would be sung out loud.  And when the mass was over, we would slowly make our way out of the church. My father would be waiting then by the steps. He would have the car with him.  My mother would ride with him down that hill. So will my grandmother. We would walk down with our nannies.  On our way home we  always made a brief stop inside a building smelling of freshly baked bread. This was the town’s bakery. It was a rectangular building that stood just a meters away from the bottom of the steps leading to the church. (And that is why for as long as I live, I know that all my memories of  attending dawn masses will forever be coupled with the smell of freshly baked bread!) As soon as we all made it home, breakfast would be served. And once again, as a family,  we would break bread…

The bright city lights confuse the rooster. The bell ringer waits until much later in the morning to push the button that mimics the sound of the bells. I wake up to the sound of my alarm clock at four am.

As I leave my building, the gray mist that has covered much of the city during the night embraces me.  I turn on my headlights and drive on. From an elevated portion of the highway, I catch a view of a part of the horizon not yet blocked by the many new buildings rising over the city.  A golden, feathery sunrise is making its way up the sky. I park the car and as soon as I open the door to step out, I am greeted by  that distinct crisp chill in the air that I always associate with December mornings. I rub my arms with my hands to warm them; I pull my jacket closer to my body. I look up and down a dimly lit street. And I prepare to wait. I spy one friend in the parking lot. Soon there will be more.

Once again a group of friends is headed up a hill. And once again, we are going to run there.

As long runs go, this one will be fairly short. This isn’t really a training run. It’s really just our excuse to come together this early morning. Not that we really need any. But once in a while, we do like to pretend we are all grown-ups. And don’t grown-ups always have reasons for doing things? Our plan is simple and straightforward: First we will run up a hill, and then we will run down it and at the end of this run, there would be a shared meal.

Now the parking lot is buzzing with chatter and lots of laughter. Everyone is finally here. We walk out of the parking lot as a group. We step up the sidewalk and we start to jog. The sidewalk ends and we are soon running on the road. Stories are still being  exchanged while hymns and songs are playing in some ipods. There are no older women now shouting out words of caution or shushing us to be quiet. But, then again, maybe that’s because child and older women are now one.

We still prefer the asphalt road to the sidewalks but there are more cars around now  sharing the road with us. Our steps remain light and relaxed. We follow the road and let it take us up the hill.

They say our lives revolve around certain patterns. Here is one I treasure.

It is a cool, crisp December morning. A group of friends gather together just before dawn to go running up a hill and then to head joyfully down. At the end of this run, they share a meal. Along the way, they trade stories, they laugh out loud, they run their hearts out. And somehow, sometime at dawn on this golden December morning, the mundane once again turns magical. Suddenly, it is Christmas time once more.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 😉

  1. keti says:

    Nice, nice Mish! Merry Christmas! :o)

    Teynks, teynks keti-kat! 🙂 wishing you all the very best this season and here’s to more great running next year. May you get triple power dose hash browns that will propel you through your first marathon with ease. And may taho manangs line the route from km 30 onwards! 🙂

  2. Philip says:

    Lomg but extremely informative, it was worth the 5 minutes to read. Maligayang pasko sa inyo at inyong pamilya.

    Hahaha! You could have run a kilometer and then some by then! 🙂 Thanks! Maligayang Pasko rin sa inyo.

  3. ibetlacbay says:

    Merry Christmas Mesh!

    Have yourself a wonderful one too! 🙂 Are you doing the rock n’ roll Seattle?

  4. Baby E. says:

    Nice Post! 🙂 Merry CHRISTmas Mesh!

    Maligayang Pasko, Baby! I hope to see more of you on the road (during fun runs! woohoo!) and at parties (where there’s lots of food!) in 2009! 🙂

  5. moljcy says:

    that’s a nice picture and a nice story too! I havent been to this side of town but il definitely put it up there on my list of places to go this 2009.

    Merry Christmas Mesh!

    Well if you are going, let me know. You don’t just go there for the view (although it’s great). You should also make room for the food! 🙂
    Oh and I had nothing to do with the picture in this blog. Just the story… Let’s just say i borrowed it from someone. Haha! May uling na naman akong makukuha sa medyas ko ngayong pasko!
    Merry Christmas, Lester!

  6. ricov says:

    You have a great vista out there. Perfect for running. Magnificent church and beautiful volcano. Merry christmas 🙂

    Yep, with crazy dogs snapping at your heels! Talk about speed training! 🙂
    Merry Christmas Mr. V!

  7. Ray Abe says:

    Hello Mesh,

    JOY and PEACE be with you!

    It’s great to have a place to come back to (and visit anytime you want).

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    – – – – – – –

    After reading your post, I had an attack of LSS to the tune of:

    “…Hurry, don’t be late, I can’t hardly wait. I said to myself when we’re old. We’ll go dancing in the dark, walking (or in your case – running) through the park and reminiscing” – Little River Band


    merry christmas, ray. i’m pretty sure you made it to santa’s nutty and nice list this year! hehe.

  8. Mukhang Guilty says:

    merry christmas mesh, I LOVE your writing style, you write with such creative flair =)

    hi harry! have a wonderful christmas too! 🙂

  9. sundaywarrior says:

    Hi Mesh, it’s always nice to reminisce our childhood ang sarap ibalik no? I was looking for the eating part in the story e ha ha. Merry Christmas from N.Carolina, see you Jan!

    Hi Chito! Hmmm… Iniiisip ko pa lang kung nasaan ka, giniginaw na ako. As for going back to our childhood memories… well, I think I’ve always stayed 12 years old inside my head anyway. 🙂 You are soooo correct… Most, if not all, of my reminiscing begins with thoughts of food…or ends with it! Hahaha! Merry Christmas to you and your family. Keep warm guys! I hope to see more of you in 2009.

  10. kingofpots says:

    nice post! you are right, life revolves around a certain pattern. have fun in your running & merry x’mas & happy new year!

    all the very best for the season, BR! 🙂 and yes, more happy running in 2009!

  11. oil3 says:

    wow.. what a nice surprise mesh…..my mom’s from the same place. (“inuragan na naman aku san”- mom’s usual line) . the barangay is busay..now its covered with sand :(.. see you next year..btw.. u got the number of the puto with dnuguan maker?

    hmmm… now, why is that line familiar? haha! i heard that often from my grandmother too. inuragan ningayud!
    and uncle forwarded the number of the magic puto supplier. thank you very much!
    i’m sure we’ll see more of each other next year. it should be fun running around in circles with you. haha! 🙂

  12. littlea says:

    I hope you had a wonderful Christmas! Thank you for your Christmas wishes. I hope we can run together someday!

    Definitely a run to look forward to! May 2009 and the universe conspire on our behalf to make that happen! 🙂

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