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Archive for the ‘Celebration’ Category

One of my most favorite songs, from the Muppets:

A little late, but very much applicable for the year ahead. Happy New Year, everyone!

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This was not an easy year, for many obvious reasons. But it was another year of learning, another year with people I love. And there is so much to be thankful for, such as:

1. Loving family and friends. There are no words to explain it.

2.A wonderful spouse.

3. An equally wonderful, kind, intelligent and loving daughter.

4.The ability to meet our family’s needs and indulge a few of our wants.

5. New skills, such as managing a website, curing meats, and gardening.

6. Good health insurance, and a good institution that gives my family the opportunity to have that insurance.

7. Surprises. The kind that make you laugh and bring tears of joy to your eyes.

8. Writing, which lets me blow off steam and focus on the positive.

9. Amazing and inspiring role models.

10. Music, for the soundtrack of my life. (I will get to that one of these days.)

11. God. The Universe. The All-Knowing, All-Seeing. Thanks for everything.

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Or, we can call this: How to Survive the Bethlehem Midnight Mass.

Attending Midnight Mass, on Christmas Eve, at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is a once in a lifetime event. Truly. What self-respecting Christian wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to experience Christmas at the exact spot where Christ was born?

(Warning: no religious/historical/factual debates here, ok? St. Jerome disapproves.)

St. Catherine'sSt. Jerome (R)

Anyway, allow me to give you some survival tips  insights based on the things I’ve learned during my own Midnight Mass experience.

First of all, how does one go about attending the mass? I suppose one must get themselves to Bethlehem one way or another, which isn’t always easy for many reasons. But before that, some preparations:

Church of the Nativity St. Catherine'sChurch of St. Catherine, Bethlehem

Step 1: Get tickets

The mass on Christmas Eve is a Roman Catholic mass. To gain entrance to the Midnight Mass, one has to apply for tickets at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem. As far as I know the tickets are free, but the Latin Patriarchate only gives a limited number of tickets to certain people.  And tickets usually run out months before Christmas. We were fortunate enough that  a good friend of ours managed to score some tickets for the mass (Thank you, Aling Jo! Pinoy Power!).

Step 2: Book a hotel in Bethlehem

This part is not a necessity, but can be quite practical because the Midnight Mass takes place around, well, midnight and finishes in the wee hours of the morning. If you have digs in Jerusalem or prefer to make the long drive back to Tel Aviv or wherever you are staying, you are of course very welcome.

Since my group and I brought all our children and the kitchen sink as well, we decided to stay the night.

The best place to stay would be at the Casa Nova, run by the Franciscan Fathers. The hotel is located right beside the Church of the Nativity and can save you from the long qeue and all the hassle of going through security (more on that later).

Don’t expect five star digs, since the religious prefer to live on the simple side, but it’s a nice, clean place to stay, with decent food. I have dealt with their staff a few times and they are always pleasant and accommodating.

Casa Nova Pilgrims House

So now that I’ve sold the place, what’s the catch? You have to book around a year in advance because about a million other people agree with me.

There are a few other hotels in the area, such as Intercontinental (and Four Seasons, I think). There are also new hotels popping up left and right, which is always a good thing.

For our group, we managed to book ourselves at the Carmelite compound. They have a nice guest house with an underground dining room, and good food too.

Carmelite Compound

All in all a good place to stay if you’re on a budget, but the catch with staying in religious places is that there are certain restrictions you won’t find in a normal hotel. Such as a curfew. Although in our case, since it was Christmas, the people running the guest house told us to just call them when we returned so they could open the gate.

Breakfast and dinner are also limited to certain hours. If you miss it, you’ll have to find food elsewhere. But for $30 a night with free breakfast (this was in 2009), this was already pretty ok.

Step 3: Tuck the children in bed and leave them there!

Did I mention there were children?

So our group had an early dinner and trooped through the narrow streets (on foot) to enjoy the sights and sounds on Manger Square before the mass. Yes, we brought the children, the youngest of whom was four at that time.

At this time Manger Square is ablaze with festivity. There are shows, food booths, loud music, and all sorts of things you would find in a giant fiesta, including the sea of humanity.

But what we thought would be an easy entrance to the Church of the Nativity (ala rock concert only– although to be honest I must have been thinking it would be as prim and proper as a ballet recital) turned out to be chaos. Understatement of the year.

Security is very, very tight because of local VIPs attending the mass. They ALWAYS attend the mass. Police units lined the streets and snipers were posted on the roofs.

There was a HUGE crowd waiting to enter, and it got to a point where there was a lot of shoving, shouting, jumping the qeue, more shoving…. It seems that the Christian values got shoved out to the side of the road as well. It was utter bedlam, and no I don’t have pictures to prove it because I was busy making sure my daughter didn’t get smothered.

At a certain point, a policeman in full SWAT gear started pushing his way through the crowd to let someone jump the line. At that point I was yelling hysterical because he was pushing against the Babii. Then a light bulb went on and I thought, WTF, I don’t have to do this. But we were in the middle of everything and the only way out was to move forward.

We did make it into the church compound. Eventually. Forty-eight years later. By that time the Babii was tired and sleepy and so were the other kids. The mass had started and we couldn’t care less. To recover from the trauma, we all went to the Casa Nova restaurant instead to get some coffee.

Step 4: Find a place to sit

We did eventually make it into the church (just so we could say that we were there), but the sea of humanity had  also moved inside, and there were bodies half-lying, half-sitting on the ground that you have to walk over to go…. anywhere. All the people looked tired. Some were sleeping. It was clear that many of them came from the far corners of the world.

And I wondered what it all meant for them, this shoving, yelling path they took so they could sleep through a ceremony in five languages.

In the end, we made our way back to the courtyard. Midnight found us under the ancient tolling bells, hugging each other against the cold and wishing everyone, friends and strangers, a merry Christmas. We were together, safe and sound, which is all I really want for Christmas.

P.S. Will I do it again? No. Once in a lifetime is enough.

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Oh! The things you could do!

Wishing everyone more magic this year and all the years to come!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

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