By Quincy Jones L. Ondona

Christmas is regarded as the longest and one of the most expensive celebrations in the Philippines. As early as September, Christmas songs are already frequent hits in the airwave. There would be a change of mood, from pensive to jolly, to accommodate this festive season. If this season gives out a joyous twist in the hearts of the grown-ups, then it is especially more in the heart of a child.

Not so many years ago, I was one of those children who consider Christmas as a very special day. And why not?  It’s the time where I can go from house to house and ask for a couple of coins without the impression of being a beggar, but of course with a little demonstration of my singing prowess-I mean my rusty voice. It’s also the time when people are in the mood of giving (or obliged to give), so it’s certain that we wont go home empty handed even if they didn’t like our singing. There’s always a good cling of ten peso coins in our pocket at the end of the night. These coins we spend the next day for our favorite delicacies like puto, banana fritters, and my favorite lintoy or stick bread.

Indeed, caroling is one of the best memories of our childhood. It’s the time when I can spend longer times with my friends even at night, something which my parents don’t allow in ordinary days. It’s also the time when children can tap their resourcefulness in utilizing whatever thing as an accompaniment to their singing. This ranges from simply banging two stones, or banging two bottles which I tried before and nearly blinded my left eye when it broke, to making use of soft drink caps that are flattened and fastened together. At least, going from house to house does not necessarily expose us to danger.

Last year, I spent Christmas in Cebu City and I was very much alarmed to see children as young as seven years old caroling inside jitneys and amidst heavy traffic. They would suddenly leap inside and blow out their opening salvo like, “Ayaw lang mo’g kahadlok mga ate mga kuya ha, kay dili mi mga kawatan. Mas maayo na lang ning mamasko kaysa mag-rugby.” (Just don’t be afraid because we are not thieves. It’s better to do caroling than to sniff rugby.) Aside from being alarmed, I didn’t know what else to feel. They were not that all sweet smelling, and when they pass by you especially when the jeepney’s cramped, you’ll never withstand that fleeting burst of  “heavenly” scent. You’ll never know whether to get angry or to show pity. However, it’s far better to feel the latter.

Looking at them, I remembered the times when I myself went into strangers’ houses to carol. Maybe I was also a foul-smelling little boy to the meticulous noses of the people I’ve met then. Maybe they consider my voice an unlikely disturbance in their peaceful living.  Maybe I was, what these children are today. So instead of getting annoyed, I willingly and joyfully placed my five peso coin on their weary hands. They gave me a smile and thanked me. What’s the fuss about a single coin? It makes a difference. It spells happiness.

“The song is ended, but the melody lingers on,” and so the saying goes. There were Christmas carols I still remember with profound clarity yet it’s been a long time since I’ve sung them. I’m not doing any caroling now, what I used to sing before I just hear from children-the new generation, in our hometown now. Despite the preponderance of modern Christmas songs today, it’s still consoling to find out that we’re still singing the same songs. Who would ever forget We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Jingle Bells, Pasko Na Naman, and Silent Night? Even though most children can’t get the exact lyrics of Silent Night, as I was before, still we sing it from the heart. I even laugh each time I remember how we sang Silent Night.  Instead of singing sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace, not knowing the proper lyrics, we sang it as slipinis felipe ,slipinis felipe.

Some mistakes in our songs were unintentional but at other times they were. For every good song we have a corrupted version. However, we only use it as a last resort or a sort of revenge when we bump into stingy homeowners.  For We Wish You a Merry Christmas, we have We Wish You Amerikano which goes like this,

We  wish you Amerikano, we wish you Amerikano

We wish you Amerikano, and a happy Negro

We may haf missed a coin sometimes, but we always have a good laugh at the end, a sort of consolation after a tiring night.

Aside from caroling, who would be so dumb not to notice those Christmas trees inside our houses? As they say, it thickens the Christmas air. Not until I saw it being displayed in our house that I would feel it is really Christmas. No, we didn’t buy our Christmas trees. We get our Christmas trees from this place we call katunggan. It is where we got mangrove branches for our Christmas trees. One incident I couldn’t forget was when hacking the ideal branch I found, high in the middle of the tree, a colony of wasps attacked me. It was a surprise attack indeed for I didn’t notice that a hive was thriving there. I was stung in the nose, in the cheek and in the ear but I endured it all for the sake of that Christmas tree. It made me realize that you don’t get all things for free. For that simple branch I paid a price and what a price to pay. Despite my swollen face after that incident, when my nose temporarily widened a few more inches (talking of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer), Christmas was as colorful as ever.

When I was a child, my idea about Christmas revolved around all these externalities. I thought that without lanterns, Christmas was dull; without candies Christmas was bitter, without lights Christmas was dim, and without carols Christmas was boring. I saw Jesus as a mere figurine in our belen, a helpless little infant cradled in the straws when the greatest truth is that He is the beauty, He is the sweetness, He is the light, and He is the music-the reason for the season…

Not the carols, not the Christmas tree, not the lantern- for if I see it then, I’m back to being a child again.

Merry Christmas!


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