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What ever happened to the Christmas Star?

(Article published in the Dec 12, 2007 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

Matthew was the only one of the four evangelists who spoke of the star that guided the magi to Joseph’s and Mary’s house at Bethlehem.  After offering their respective gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they packed up and left.  Matthew says “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road” (Matt 2:12).  

Obviously, the magi’s journey, like the trips of the members of the Presidential party to, among other cities, London to visit the Queen, were not funded by tax collections in the public treasury.  If they were, Herod would have launched a manhunt for them like that one which our own police and military, after the Manila Peninsula Hotel caper of Trillanes, organized to look  for the slippery Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon and his friends.   

Catching the magi would have been easy.  The magi, unlike Faeldon, could not have posed as members of the media since their English is not as good as Ces Drillon’s.  Moreover, the magi, with the blankets over their heads, were easily identifiable, like that man wearing a black camouflage uniform and a wig.  

Still, some sort of task force to catch up with the magi must have been ordered by Herod; after all, the funds the magi used could have come in brown bags handed out by his political party.  But, the posse comitatus must have returned empty handed, and that was why Herod, displaying his famous bad temper, vented his ire on the holy innocents, slaughtering them in the same fashion that some people at the Manila Peninsula Hotel, who were clearly members of the media, were herded into a bus for processing by the police to Bicutan. 


Historian Fr. Horacio De La Costa, S.J., strongly maintains that “Mechor was king of Tondo; Gaspar ruled Sampaloc; And Balthazar Binondo.”  Quae cum ita sint (for those  illiterate in latin, that is roughly “Since that is so” or, for those worse, lawyers, the equivalent of “premises considered”), the magi were Filipinos. That is the first reliable clue as to what happened to the Star.   

The Star, says Matthew, “stopped over the place where the Child was” (Matt 2:10).   And, like all created things which naturally break down after having fulfilled their missions, the Star must have burst and splintered, just like a Meralco neon lamp that, having done its time atop a concrete post, breaks up in scattered glass on the street.  This blow up caused the temporary brownout in Bethlehem that enabled the magi to slip through the security cordon that Herod’s intelligence had set up.  Just as easily as Trillanes and his group walked all the way, for most of the time in the middle of Makati Avenue, from Mayor Jojo Binay’s City Hall to the Peninsula Hotel, unmolested by the military.

So, if I may ask, like a lawyer doing his direct examination of a witness who has memorized his lines, “after the splinter, what happened next?”

Again, quote De La Costa: “…when the kings came home at last/ From Bethlehem afar/ They lost their camels in the sea/ And they forgot the Christmas Tree/ But they brought home to you and me/ The secret of the star.”

The present keepers of that secret, continues De La Costa, are those who year after year affirm their affinity and kinship to the magi by lighting up their star parols at Christmas time.  Those who, I must add, also put up Christmas trees and Santa Clauses are the globalized Filipinos. Thus, Fr. De La Costa tells us where the secret is kept; but still, he did not say what became of the Star’s splinters. 

        It is easy, however, to proceed from where the good historian left off. Since the magi are Filipinos, they must have brought home some of the splinters as souvenirs.  To those who do not believe, I say, “who among the 200 who tagged along  with the President to Lourdes, to Madrid, to London and Kuwait, did not come home with souvenirs?” 

Cora Guidote, and her friends at Yamang Dagat Foundation, tell us where the splinters presently are:  Together with the unfortunate camels who, though fond of water, had too much to drink when the magi’s ship floundered, the splinters fell overboard and sank in Philippine waters.   

There they all lie now near Philippine shores cradled by sea and sand.  Scientists, steeped in their science and thus absolutely clueless that they are progeny of the Star, call them unwittingly, asteroidea, or Starfish.

Their celestial ancestry shows in the starfishes’ unusual features and suprahuman powers.  They have no front or back; hence, they cannot be branded, like our many politicians as urong- sulong. They can move in any direction without turning; and any direction they take can be correctly called “forward” or “background” or “sideward” as you please. They don’t need, as you and I do, muscles to move their legs.  They have instead a complex hydraulic system to move around or cling to rocks. They need not practice Tai Chi to make the Chi flow within their bodies. 

They may, as the spirit moves them, have sex or not.  If they want to have sex, all that is needed is for the male and female to release their gametes into the environment.  No need for the messy entanglements that mark human reproduction.  Or, if they feel too lazy for sex but want to reproduce, they can do so by fragmentation, often with part of an arm becoming detached and eventually developing into an independent individual starfish. The starfish that gave up his arm simply regenerates a new one.

To avoid detection, they show up in different varieties.  In Anilao, Batangas there is a yellow thorny one, about 7 inches, that has a red disk and fingers with crochet-like patterns.  At Anilao also stays the necklace sea star with its red disc and yellow arms stained with red near the tips.  In El Nido, Palawan, there is the 12-inch Friant sea star, beautifully decorated with wart-like nodules of white and yellow.   

There is no need to go out of Metro Manila to see these progeny of the Star’s splinters.  Cora Guidote was kind enough to show her collection of photos of various starfishes, plus their beautiful neighbors, the nudibranchs (pronounced nudi branks, yes, “nudi” means “nude” but you will see nothing like the gyrating felines of your favorite topless bar) and other sea slugs and creatures in an Exhibit entitled “Jewels of the Philippine Seas.” 

        Jewels of the Philipine Seas, which opened at the Top of the Citi, the 34th Floor of the Citibank Tower last 04 December, will be on exhibit until after New Year.  The Top of the Citi is exclusive to members at lunch time, but they will let you in if you introduce yourself as my guest there to buy (and you actually do buy) some of the photos hanging on the wall.  Net proceeds go Yamang Dagat to fund its advocacy of increasing public awareness of the wealth of Philippine marine life.  Curator at the Top is Ms. Eunice Amparo, herself a jewel, lovely on her own right without having to get her feet wet in the water.