Christmas ritual-A A +A
Saturday, October 12, 2013
THEY appear like clockwork.
By the first week of September, they’re camped out on the sidewalks of major thoroughfares. Whole families: fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. They eat there. They sleep there. And depending on the smell of the vicinity, they probably relieve themselves there, too.
They’re participating in the world’s longest celebration of the Christmas season.
They let their children wander naked to accost passersby for change. The children hurry and scurry and dart around pedestrian traffic, looking for easy prey. They zero in on women, young and old alike, perhaps banking on their maternal instincts. They then break into a Christmas ditty.
Sometimes they get lucky and receive a peso or two. Sometimes they get the “shoo.”
“Para palit pan, ma’m (sir),” is what the other children usually say, looking all forlorn, as they tag along their intended. When they realize they’re not getting a centavo, they cut their losses and move on to their next target.
As for the mothers, they make themselves conspicuous with their bellowing voices when they berate or scold their children, which is often. They’re quick to give a not-so-gentle slap to make a point. With a quick follow-up, for emphasis, I suppose.
They spend most of the day squatting on pieces of cardboard that they’ve turned into their temporary living room/dining room/bedroom/kitchen. And with a view to boot. At night, they huddle under blankets, their children on one side and their husbands on the other, seemingly unconcerned of what others might think.
As for the men, I only notice them at night next to their wives. Or having a bite to eat at dinner time. Very Rockwellian. Don’t know where they go, though, during the day.
So I shake my head and mutter a “tsk,tsk,” ready to pass judgment, and brimming with moral ascendancy.
Then I’m reminded of the time I saw two boys on the skywalk near Fuente Osmeña. They were obviously siblings. They were on the landing of the stairway. The elder boy, who looked about four years old, was half-naked. He was cradling the younger boy, who looked about two. He was cajoling him to eat something out of a plastic. I didn’t see what it was. Maybe rice. Maybe vegetables. It was definitely food. Then the elder boy tickled the younger boy, who burst into a fit of the giggles.
There was a woman on P. del Rosario St. who was picking lice off a girl’s hair, her fingers gently combing through the girl’s tresses to separate strands. The silent bonding moment was only broken by inaudible words whenever the woman showed the girl a squished bug.
Then there was a man on Pelaez St. who was putting a shirt on a boy who might have been his son and then wiping the smudges on the boy’s face with his thumb.
Earlier in the week, the Cebu City Anti-Mendicancy Board sought the help of the Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) to rid the streets of carolers, especially children. The board also warned that it would go after parents who allow their children to carol (accent on the second syllable) or beg, adding that it might sue them for violating the Anti-Child Labor Law and the Anti-Child Abuse Law.
CCPO Director Noli Romana said he’d obliged and instruct his men to apprehend carolers, especially those who board public utility jeepeneys.
It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that the practice is also illegal under Cebu City Ordinance 1631, or the anti-mendicancy law.
As for me, when I see them on the sidewalks, I just walk past them. When I’m in a good mood, I drop a P5-coin into one of the solicitous hands.
When I’m having a bad day, then I curse and condemn.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 13, 2013.