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Singing the Songs of the Season

Christmas carols mark the beginning of this season in the country. And therein lies an exciting, if not interesting and irritating problem with our culture.

Lately, we have always been proud of having the longest celebration of Christmas in the world. No one knows where this preposterous title come from; no one can say what benefit this brings to the country. No one also can ascertain the origin of this reputation. At the most, this claim is again one of those ethnocentric ideas we parlay in the absence of real excellence or progress in the country.

I can think of certain starting points for this belief: economics and mass media. Add to that certain quirkiness in our world-view, or how we perceive ourselves in relation to the bigger world outside.

A long celebration means better income for stores. There is just a bit of a conflict here because, lately, Halloween, has become a main festival as well in the Philippines. This means that stores can only have a dedicated décor related to the Yuletide season after they have taken down the skeletons and artificial cobwebs from their walls and display windows.

The mass media, in particular free TV, started it all with the literal countdown. If my tabloid memory is of service now, it was Inday Badiday, arguably the most controversial of them all, who initiated this practice of counting the days leading to the 25th of December. The present practice comes in two forms: counting as early as July or when the so-called “Ber-months” appear on the calendar.

This “ber-month” phenomenon is also one of the lucid reasons why there is a feeling the Christmas season lasts longer than December. From September, radio announcers or those tending to the piped-in music in malls and groceries would begin playing Christmas songs. This would be seen as signal by public transport drivers that it is now the season to dream of White Christmas or sound all the jingle bells.

Christmas songs or carols are also problematic. Long before the notion of transnationalizing, which is to look at cultures as neither bound by nations or nationalities nor by ethnic identities. The songs for the December or October and November therefore are about places and elements that are not with us – sleigh bells, mistletoe, and Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Much as we bundle up, we cannot even approximate the look of an Eskimo but we sing of this song and, curiously, develop a nostalgia for the matters enumerated.

Of course, you will say: but we only have nostalgia for something that was a part of our past. Now, that is exactly the point of all this – nostalgia can always be manufactured. As when we dream of a white Christmas, just like the ones we used to know. It does not matter really if we never had a snowbound Christmas celebration; it matters that the song brings back the many Christmases we spend with our loved ones years and years ago.

The crisis of lyrics is not limited to carols of foreign origin; songs about “Pasko” can be disturbing upon closer examination.

Note the words of one of the most famous Christmas songs in Tagalog, the one with the title, “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit.” Composed by Vicente Rubi and originally in Cebuano, the song bore the title, “Kasadya ning Taknaa.” With the lyrics in Tagalog provided by Levi Celerio, the song is utterly didactic.

The song talks about now the New Year should bring a change of heart: Bagong Taon ay magbagong buhay. Curiously enough, that very personal and internal turning a new leaf has an ambitious goal, one that is meant for the nation or community: Nang lumigaya ang ating bayan.

Can we leave Christmas as it is and demand national renewal to a government? But then again, maybe the fact that our lousy governments and our lousier politicians do not have progress in their mind that we now tax a simple Christmas carol to bear the burden of moral change.

More disturbing words appear later and these point to why we have difficulty demarcating the beginning and end ending of Christmas as a calendrical feast, one that is noted in terms of days of significance. In one stanza of the song, it says: Tayo ay magmahalan/Ating sundin ang gintong aral/At magbuhat ngayon/Kahit hindi Pasko ay magbigayan

What do those lines imply? What do they hide? Christmas is a season of giving. Does this mean, the long season of Christmas means a long season of giving and charity? Does extending Christmas necessarily point to a pure desire to have a heart open to caring for others? Well, examine the song again. Even if it is not Christmas anymore, we should be charitable to each other, we should be caring for each other. The lines sweetly betray us” we give love only on Christmas. Or, we think by giving gifts to others we are also giving parts of ourselves. Maybe. But not necessarily.

Personally, there are other dissonant lines in this song. With due respect to Christmas itself, let me call your attention to these lines: Tayo’y mangagsi-awit/Habang ang mundo’y tahimik. Wrong! Let us be quiet while the world is silent. And let us in our hearts pray for the world. In silence But – please – let us not burst into songs at a time when the world pauses to remember a wondrous birth!


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