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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas traditions from the Philippines*

Happy holidays! It's that time of year again to celebrate and commemorate the nativity of Jesus Christ, who was born in a manger, later suffered and died for our sake, and was then resurrected to give us hope in life.

Immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens like me may have become accustomed to the western ways of living. But wherever we may be, still carry in our hearts the cultures and traditions of our youth.

As Christmas draws near, I love to recall Christmas traditions from back home in the Philippines.

As early as September, shopping malls and stores start hanging Christmas decorations and playing Christmas songs. Houses are getting ready for Christmas family reunions. Civic groups begin brainstorming to try to raise funds by caroling from house to house and business to business. Churches see more attendance.

These activities run through the Feast of Three Kings, the first week of January.

In a Filipino household, you'll likely see a star "parol" (a Spanish word meaning lantern or lamp) or Christmas lantern hanging or displayed distinctly in one's house.

This symbolizes the star over Bethlehem, the one that guided the three wise men to the stable whre our Lord Jesus Christ was born.

The traditional five-pointed star lantern was made of bamboo sticks, cellophane and colored rice paper, commonly called "papel de Hapon" or Japanese paper. In the middle of the parol is a platform where a candle or two---or a small coconut-oil lamp---illuminates the lantern.

Now, the Christmas parol takes different forms and designs, from simple five-pointed stars to colorful ones illuminated by kaleidoscopic electric lights.

Originally the parol was used not as a Christmas decoration but to light the way for those going to church for dawn masses, known as "Misa de Gallo" or "Rooster's Mass."

The Christmas tradition of "Simbang Gabi" is a series of nine consecutive dawn (or evening) masses that starts Dec. 16 and ends Christmas Eve. It has been adopted by a lot of different dioceses, including those of Richmond, Arlington and Washington, DC.

Another tradition is this "Noche Buena" on Christmas Eve. On this festive night, family and friends gather together around a dining table laden with food---lechon or roasted pig; pancit, or Chinese lo mien noodles; lumpia, or egg rolls; bibingka, or rice cakes; adobo, arroz caldo, macaroni, spaghetti, fruit salad and more.

We enjoy food, friendship and fellowship, and we also exchange gifts, sing Christmas carols and play games. We go caroling from house to house, bringing glad tidings of "peace on Earth, goodwill to men."

On Christmas Day, we attend Christmas mass, then eat leftover food. Children go to their
godparents's homes to receive gifts. Other groups and families continue their partying and getting together with relatives near or far. Others go to the mall or to the movies.

Christmas is a season of joy and hope, a time for family and friends getting together, sharing their joy and blessings.

From my family to yours, merry Christmas and happy holidays!

-Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in northern Suffolk with his family. Email him at

*Published in the Opinion page of the award-winning Suffolk News-Herald, Tuesday, December 23, 2014. For more information, visit

Friday, December 12, 2014

Limits needed on high-stakes testing*

Testing is important. In fact, it is employed almost everywhere in business and industries, occupations or professions.

In the case of education, students are tested to gauge their range of learning and to find out if they understand what has been taught by their teachers.

The common pen and paper or online testing have become the norm in education, and test resulkts are recorded for various purposes. Test scores are looked at as if they are the ultimate indicators of learning and teaching.

Not to discount the pen and paper test, but there are other ways to evaluate learning. One is active classroom observation and participation, particularly graded individual classroom recitation. Asking students questions is a form of testing. Observing one student helping another to solve a problem is testing. And giving an essay-type test in the classroom is another way of testing students' critical thinking, thought-organization, mastery of the language and communication skills.

Students and teachers are under a lot of pressure from all sides of the education spectrum, especially with the mandated state and federal standardized tests that take precedence over individual lesson plans. Hence, they are teaching their students to the tests. And, thus, their students' test scores become the basis for evaluating teacher performance.

Some people are quick to point their fingers at educators for students' failures. But who is to blame?

Blaming teachers for students' failure to pass standardized tests is absurd and counterproductive. What teacher would want his or her students to fail in class? Students are their responsibility in school. But that doesn't mean teachers are responsible for everything in their students' minds. Students have minds of their own.

Students have the will to learn or not. They even have the ability to disrupt a class and, therefore, jeopardize the day's learning for those who want to learn. What about the responsibility of that student, his or her family, other entities or agencies charged with helping to educate our students?

The National Education Association is launching a campaign to end "toxic testing," the abuse and overuse of high-stakes standardized tests. With its new president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the NEA will continue to push the president and Congress to completely overhaul the No Child Left Behind program and to end mandates that require states to administer outdated tests that aren't aligned to school curricula.

Furthermore, NEA is "calling on lawmakers to repeal requirements that state standardized tests be used to evaluate educators, and instead implement real accountability in our public education."

Eskelsen Garcia said high-stakes testing is corrupting what it means to teach and what it means to learn. "It's corrupting the collaborative relationship we have with each other as we're told to compete against each other---district against district, school against school, teacher against teacher, and support professionals against each other."

It takes a village to raise and educate a child. Our teachers do all they can to help make their students successful.

-Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk. Email him at

*Published in the award-winning Suffolk News-Herald. For more information, visit