Food, festivities fill Filipino celebrations, says Fr. Pigon

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | December 19, 2013

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]DE PERE — Missionary of Faith Fr. Judah Pigon does not envy the priests in his homeland this time of year. Dec. 16 marked the start of the nine-day Misa de Gallo novena in the Philippines. Misa de Gallo translates to “rooster’s Mass,” so the liturgy is celebrated at 4 a.m. each day.

Missionary of Faith Fr. Judah Pigon holds a stirring spoon in the kitchen of St. Mary Church in De Pere Dec. 17. Fr. Pigon enjoys cooking dishes from the Philippines. (Scott Eastman | For The Compass)
Missionary of Faith Fr. Judah Pigon holds a stirring spoon in the kitchen of St. Mary Church in De Pere Dec. 17. Fr. Pigon enjoys cooking dishes from the Philippines. (Scott Eastman | For The Compass)

“You hear the rooster crow at four o’clock, so that’s the time you have to go to church,” said Fr. Pigon, parochial vicar at St. Mary and St. Francis Xavier parishes, De Pere. “The priests also offer Masses in the evenings for those who cannot go early in the morning. The priest may finish his last Mass at 10 p.m. and then has to get up very early the next day. The novena is a big deal. We are superstitious. We believe that if you complete those nine days, your Christmas wish will come true.”

Fr. Pigon, a native of Ligao in the Province of Albay, Philippines, recalls his grandmother, Nativad, bringing him, his two sisters and brother to Mass for the novena. Schools in the Philippines are closed for the holidays beginning on Dec. 16. Some businesses also close.

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“A lot of the grandmothers bring their families to church,” said Fr. Pigon. “Close family ties are part of our culture. Most of the (family members) live in one house. We lived in our grandmother’s compound.”

Food is an important part of Filipino celebrations, beginning with the novena. Fr. Pigon explained that after the early morning Mass, sipoa, a sweetened bun stuffed with meat and then steamed, is available outside the church. Buko juice, a coconut milk drink, is also popular during the season.

Much of the food in the Philippines is influenced by the Spanish, added Fr. Pigon. Paella is a common dish for Christmas. Spaghetti featuring a sauce sweetened with sugar is a favorite of the children.

Fr. Pigon finds humor in a Filipino Christmas delicacy now that he is serving in the Diocese of Green Bay where cheese is readily available. Queso de Bola, which translates to “ball cheese,” is only available for Christmas in his home country.

“It’s a round Edam cheese,” explained Fr. Pigon. “We don’t make cheese in the Philippines. It’s imported from New Zealand and Australia. We don’t have cheese compared to here in Wisconsin. When you have cheese in your celebration in the Philippines, especially for the children, people are very happy.”

Many Filipino families serve ham for celebrations, but the traditional seasonal dishes in the Philippines feature ox tail (kare-kare) or ox tripe (callos). Kaldereta, a stew made with goat meat, is another traditional dish, said Fr. Pigon, who regularly cooks when he is in his home country.

Ingredients for Callos
• 1 1/2 lb. ox feet (veal shanks), cleaned
• 2 lbs. ox tripe, cleaned
• 15 ounces chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
• 8 ounces tomato sauce
• 2 pieces chorizo, sliced
• 1/4 lb. bacon, sliced in 1-inch strips.
• 1 large bell pepper, cut into thick strips
• 1 large onions, sliced
• 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 medium sized carrot, cubed
• 1 teaspoon whole peppercorn
• 4 cups water

“Rice is a staple food,” he said in reference to foods served at all times. “We also have vegetables cooked in coconut milk. String beans or squash cooked in coconut milk is typical. Pork, fish or chicken are a part of the meal. Beef is really expensive, so if you get beef, you are lucky.”

The Christmas traditions extend beyond food in the Philippines. Christmas caroling is popular, especially for the school children.

“The students send a letter to your house and you cannot say no,” said Fr. Pigon. “Some children bring their own improvised instruments. They will take the caps of bottles and make cymbals. The younger kids don’t send letters. They just show up to sing and you give them a treat.”

The seminarians sing Christmas carols as a form of fundraising. They send letters to homes announcing their intentions and collect donations.

“The priest, the director of the seminary, will also go and pray for the family and offer a blessing,” said Fr. Pigon. “Then the seminarians will sing Christmas carols.”

Gifts are often exchanged in a secret type format with packages labeled monito for boys and monita for girls. Nativity scenes are found in most of the homes. Parols, Christmas lanterns featuring many colors, are found outside homes and along streets. The star-shaped lanterns serve as an expression of faith and hope.

“They use bulbs for the lanterns,” said Fr. Pigon. “They don’t use candles like in the old days. The bulbs last longer and are much safer.”

The celebrations do not end on Christmas. Fr. Pigon grew up as a member of St. Stephen Parish in Ligao. The feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26, is a major celebration in the city and includes singing and dancing competitions. Traditional foods help mark the feast.

Fr. Pigon will be celebrating Christmas this year in northeast Wisconsin. He has been in De Pere about 14 months as part a three-year commitment to serve the diocese. Missionary of Faith Frs. Rene Balbero and Ricardo Basquiñez also currently serve in the diocese. A Filipino Christmas Mass will be celebrated at 3 p.m. Dec. 25 at St. Francis Xavier Church in De Pere.

“A Filipino doctor here suggested that we have a Mass,” said Fr. Pigon. “We will have some people from Appleton, Oshkosh and Green Bay. After the Mass, we will have snacks, pika-pika (finger foods). It’s a way to celebrate and bring people together.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info”]Callos: A Filipino-Spanish dish made of ox tripe

Callos is a Filipino-Spanish dish made from ox tripe and veal shanks (ox feet). The commonly used vegetables are carrots, chickpeas (garbanzos) and bell pepper.


1: Pour water in a cooking pot and bring to a boil.

2: Put in the onion, whole peppercorn, ox feet and ox tripe. Simmer until the ox feet and tripe are extremely tender (you may use a slow cooker or pressure cooker).

3: Remove the ox feet and tripe from the pot and let it cool down for a few minutes. Set the stock aside for later use.

4: Cut the ox tripe into bite- size pieces and debone the ox feet. Set aside.

5: Heat a large wok or pan then pour in the olive oil.

6: Add chorizo and bacon, then cook on medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes.

7: Pour in the tomato sauce then let boil.

8: Add the tender ox feet and tripe and 2 cups of stock (water used to boil ox feet and ox tripe) then simmer for 10 minutes in pot and bring to a boil.

9: Add salt and pepper, then add the carrots. Simmer for 3 minutes.

10: Add the chickpeas and bell pepper, then simmer for 10 minutes.

11: Transfer to a serving dish.

12: Serve hot.[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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