Christmas, Yesterday and Today

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By Max Sangil

For the Record

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"When I was small and Christmas trees were tall,
we used to laugh, while others used to play
Don't ask me why, the time has passed us by we are tall, and Christmas trees are small…"


IN THIS country, Christmas carols are played by radio stations as early as September, and it unofficially signals the start of the Holiday season. We have the longest Christmas celebration compared to other countries. I think mall owners have something to do with it. And why not? They are the biggest beneficiaries of the season. Right Mr. Sy? Mr.Lucio Co, Mr.Gokongwei, Mr. Gaisano?


When I was growing up in our lethargic town of Porac, there were no malls yet. Since our town fiesta was on November 25, my mother would buy me clothes peddled by street hawkers who sold wares and most anything. Having new clothes for Christmas, a trouser with matching pants! Wow, that was a big deal.

No new shoes. Those which were bought two or three years ago were not yet outgrown and were still okay to use, unless there were solicited hand-me-downs from rich kin normally given to my mom by my uncle Godofredo, father of Democrito, Ener and Amable, or from my uncle Bienvenido, father of Nonong, the former mayor who was felled by an assassin’s bullet while campaigning in the ‘80s. All the above cousins were a lot older than I was, except for Nonong who was three years my senior.


The giant and electronically operated lanterns were “the future”. Even in the houses of the rich, displayed on their windows are the simple parols. No other decor. No multi-colored dancing Christmas lights.
Only the wealthy can afford decorated Christmas trees. Only they can afford cakes, apples, oranges, ham and cheese. Ordinary families enjoyed 'nilaga and suman' and other home-prepared dainties.


My parents woke us up early and attended all the dawn masses (simbang gabi) and we had to walk more than a kilometer to reach the church. Fr. Santiago Blanco, a pure blooded Spaniard, was our parish priest. His booming voice can be heard from the altar to the main door of the church when delivering his homilies. Microphones and loud speakers were not in use then. The Gopez sisters, aunties of Francisco G. Nepomuceno, composed mostly the choral group with Memeng Tadeo, father-in-law of Senator Lito Lapid as the male vocalist, and my sister Zenaida as the female lead.


Then, only kids were carolers. Unlike today, the mailman, the garbage man, the security guards, subdivision associations, office workers and many formed groups send notices that they would knock on your door on a designated day, and “in the spirit of the season” you have to give. I used to hear then from older people that Christmas is for young people.

“Ang pasko ay para sa mga bata!”

On Christmas day, as early six in the morning, we donned our well-pressed clothes and we visited our relatives and the “ninongs and ninangs”. Before lunch time, if I had enough money for fares and movies, off to the theaters in nearby Angeles. And before dusk I was home, and my celebration of Christmas was over, and will look forward to the next year.


Today, Christmas has taken an entirely different meaning for many people. And I am also a victim of this modern day and digital age. I no longer wake up early mornings for the dawn masses. I no longer prepare Christmas cards to greet kin and friends. I greet them with the very impersonal text messages. I join the rush with other people in going to the malls in a mad scramble to empty the shelves. I part now with my money, not to young carolers from our neighborhood singing “The First Noel”, Jingle Bells and Silent Night, but in envelopes, and never see the faces of the recipients. If you can't see their faces, how can you hear voices? How can you get their warm greetings, except in a written solicitation letter?

Today's celebration of Christmas will never bring me back to my childhood.

Oh! I miss the good old days!

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 11, 2013.


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