Pacete: Christmas under the Japs

SATURDAY is December 23. It is the birthday of the emperor of Japan. The word “emperor” reminds us that our country was once at war with Japan because of the order of the “emperor.” Peace time in the Philippines ended a few weeks before Christmas in 1941.

Japan sided with the Axis against Allied Powers to pursue its ambitious expansion in Asia. The Land of the Rising Sun is calling the war a campaign for a “Greater East Asia Co- Prosperity Sphere. It is intended to overshadow the socio-political ploy of America for the Asians, “Benevolent Assimilation”.

In December 1941, Japanese aircraft attacked US military bases in Hawaii, Siam, Malaya, Singapore, the Philippines and other US territories in Asia. A whole generation of Filipinos stood ready to fight alongside their American “protectors.” (History could attest to that.) Little did they know that the United States War Department had long decided that the islands in the Philippines were neither defensible nor worth defending.

Our country was just there “to upset the enemy’s time table.” We were just made to fight. No ship, no plane, no American soldiers were to reach the Philippines until three years later. As President Truman said, “A sacrifice to America’s state of unpreparedness.” The Japanese made an “all-out campaign to erase the Filipino habit of reliance upon Western nations.”

So, how did we celebrate Christmas under the noses of the Japanese? The Japs introduced their “sushi” and “tempura” (not hotdogs and hamburger). God was still in the mind of the Filipinos for Christmas… that little naked Jesus wrapped with a piece of cloth.

Christmas was survival and there was the specter of hunger. The “burgis” of Negros stockpiled on food and other necessities… bath soap, oatmeal, corned beef. Here in Silay, some “hacenderos” left their mansions in the poblacion and stayed in their haciendas. Their “muchahos” butchered pigs and salted them in big earthen jars. Carabao’s meat were made into “tapa” (kusahos).

My father and grandfather planted camotes near their air raid shelter (cave in structure near the stream). The other “obreros” followed the advice of Lolo Pedro to plant rice and corn in abandoned sugarcane field. The working class had camote for Christmas and even on ordinary days. The “simbang gabi” was closely monitored by the Japanese.

One “buena familia” lady had always a baby pillow at her side. Others thought it was just for fun. The family jewelry was there and that was discovered because she used few pieces to buy kilos of pork for the Christmas Eve. The meat vendors were not happy with their profit. Three kilos of meat would be paid with a sack of Japanese money. That “kinkoy” money had no value at all.

Some “hacendero” families got “haciendas” near the mountain. They would bring their household staff there… cocinero, yaya, mayordoma, muchahos and rondas. Life was still good and one Christmas night, they would host a party for the guerillas.

My grandfather had a neighbor (a wife) who delivered her baby on Christmas Eve. Her mother’s milk was not enough. Lolo offered the family her mother goat. The infant survived while sharing mother goat’s milk with two other young brother goats.

One “hacendero” was picked up by the Japs. Morning before Christmas, he was visited by an official of the Japanese Imperial Army. He invited the official to join him with a cup of coffee. That was well appreciated but later on it was found out that the mug has the inscription of the American flag. The guy was punished severely for that.

That could be the reason for someone who has less preparation for the season to say “daw tiempo Hapon ba… pigado gid.” That should not be the case. One can always celebrate Christmas with his own perception of happy Christmas. Discover one for your own. The greatest happiness you can give is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness.

To our Japanese friends who are here, please join in our merry celebration of Christmas anchored in our culture and faith. We could always learn the lesson from history but we could always look forward for togetherness and sharing.

Merry Christmas!
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