Sangil: Recalling Christmas in my youth

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'When I was small and Christmas trees were tall, we used to laugh, while others used to play. Don' ask my why, the time has passed us by'. ...' now we are tall, and Christmas trees are small'

MY KOREAN friend Mr. Kim asked me why in September he can already see holiday decorations and keeps hearing Christmas carols. I smilingly told him that we in the Philippines have the longest Christmas celebration compared to other countries. I jokingly told him that maybe mall owners have something to do with it. Maybe so. And why not? They are the biggest beneficiaries of the season. Malls in Angeles City, Clark Freeport and in the City of San Fernando are always crowded. There is no available parking space for vehicle-riding shoppers.

Unlike in the early years, when I was growing up in our lethargic town of Porac, there were no malls yet. My mother bought us clothes then peddled on the sidewalks very near the San Nicolas market in Angeles City. (Today Porac town has two supermarkets owned by the first two Chinese merchants that did business in Porac. Unfortunately, Chuzon and Puregold supermarkets were destroyed by a recent earthquake). If there's a surplus on the family budget, since our town fiesta was on November 25, my mother would buy us clothes peddled by street hawkers who sold wares and several other items. Having new clothes for Christmas, a trouser with a matching pant! Wow, that's big deal for me and my siblings.

No new shoes? That's no problem. Those which were bought two or three years ago if not yet outgrown were still okay to use. Unless there were solicited hand me downs from rich kins. And 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 assasin bullet while campaigning in the eighties. All the above cousins were a lot older than I am, except for Nonong who was my three years senior. My mother was the bunso and only girl. Her brothers were comfortably belong to the middle income group.

The giant and electronically operated lanterns were the future. Even on houses of the rich displayed on their windows were the simple parol. No other decor. No multi-colored dancing Christmas lights. Only few wealthy families can afford decorated Christmas trees. Only them 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 (simbanggabi) 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 MemengTadeo, father-in-law of Senator LitoLapid as the male vocalist, and my sister Zenaida was 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 samgabata!'

On Christmas day, as early six in the morning, we donned on 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 for the next year.

Today Christmas entirely took a very different meaning to 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 kins 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 put in the cash 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!


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