Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Today's Update of Philippine Christmas circa 1930s

Illustration by Pablo Amorsolo of Alvaro Martinez's  Reminiscences of Philippine Christmas in the December 1930 issue of the Philippine Magazine

In December 1930, Alvaro Martinez was already lamenting that "many beautiful practices connected with the observance of Christmas in the Philippines are slowly passing away."

After eighty years, these practices may only be alive in the ganito kami noon (this is what we were) stories of surviving great-grandparents of today's generation, or they have morphed into variants shaped by the dictates of Christmas commerce and the influences of foreign, specifically American, culture such as the Santa Claus hype.  

Martinez, 1930:  "The Philippine aguinaldo differs or differed from the Western Christmas gift in that it is given only to younger children, and usually not by the parents but by other relatives and friends. Godmothers and godfathers were especially called upon to bestow upon their godsons or goddaughters substantial aguinaldos at Christmas.  These took the form of money, eatables, or toys. It was the common practice on Christmas Eve to change paper bills into small coins for distribution to the children who were sure to call the next day. Paper bags filled with fruits, nuts, and candies were prepared for the older children who accompanied their younger brothers and sisters. They were supposed to be too old to receive their aguinaldos in money." 

Our aside:  In the days before the second world war, as borne by church records, a baby girl has only a ninang (godmother) and a baby boy a ninong (godfather) during his baptism.  It was rare to have both a ninong and ninang.  In one case we found in the baptismal book of the early 1890s in San Narciso, Zambales, the son of a cabeza de barangay was baptized with the gobernadorcillo and his wife as godparents. 

Update 2010:  'Aguinaldo' is archaic; it's now 'Christmas gift' or 'regalo' for all--members of the family, relatives, friends, officemates, service providers (househelp, messengers, garbage collectors, village security guards, et cetera).

Thus, gift buying is stressful in many ways (Christmas is a stressed season, an American newspaper said so in a front page last week) but 'tis good for the business in malls or tiangges thickly crowded with shoppers till the midnight.

We think that having multiple godparents (baptisms and weddings) a.k.a sponsors is a post-World War 2 phenomenon, and this could be just circa 1970s.  We can't help being co-sponsor every now and then with new faces, may be a barangay kagawad or a senator, or a popular movie or entertainment personality.

We hate to be in the Cubao area in the late afternoon of December 25 because we don't like to see the sight of tired mothers saddled with plastic bags of gifts tongue-lashing and dragging disconsolate children to the jeepney stop for the ride home.  We saw them in the morning, all their faces etched with thrill and excitement, waiting for the rides to bring them to their kids' ninongs and ninangs around the metropolis.  At the end of Christmas day, was it worth traveling to and fro just so the kids' would get a gift from their multiple sponsors? 

Martinez, 1930:   "The money collected by the children in aguinaldos was either placed in coconut alcancias to become a part of the children's savings or was spent for clothing and other necessities. In the case of some poor families, the money was sometimes used to help meet the family expenses." 

Update 2010:   There may be modern variants of the coconut 'bank'.  For the rich kids, the cash gifts may go for the latest electronic gadgets.  Yes, it's still true, some poor kids become bread winners as soon as the -ber months set in.  In shopping areas or public transport routes, there would be street children singing a carol and expecting a dole-out.  

Martinez, 1930:  "For the children, much of the thrill of Christmas has gone with the passing away of the custom so prevalent in former years of preparing a special new suit or dress for the day. Mothers saved for months to buy their children new clothes, no matter how poor in quality they might be. The buying of shoes was kept off as long as possible in order that the children might all have a new pair at Christmas. Christmas then stood out from the rest of the year.

"Children stayed up late on Christmas Eve making their preparations for the next day. Their new clothing was placed on chairs, neatly folded and ready for the next morning, and the new shoes taken out of their boxes and put beneath them together with the new socks or stockings. The route to be taken in visiting relatives and friends was also discussed and the customary Christmas greeting of Magandang Pasko Po was practiced.

"Nowadays good clothing is used for every day wear, so there is nothing for special occasions." 

Our aside:  When we were growing up, this was true for provincial kids like us.  We remember only two occasions when we get to wear brand new shoes--Christmas and graduation day.  Leather shoes were not often worn to school because wooden shoes or Japanese sandals would do.

Our mother and her close friends would take a day off from house chores and go to a bazaar in Olongapo for a bit of shopping for the children's and husband's clothes.  She'd come home with a white polo shirt for me; it was always white.  She was a seamstress; hence, my sisters would have newly sewn dresses (sometimes done just before getting dressed up for the midnight mass.) 

Update 2010:  Shopping, shopping, shopping for expensive signature stuff using saved allowances, advance cash gifts from parents/godparents/siblings and/or remittances of OFWs in the family; or for pseudo-signatures in the pirate market.

Thank God, some modern-day godchildren still pay respect to their godparents by doing the mano ritual (they take your hand and have it touch their forehead briefly), and they need not say 'Magandang Pasko Po.'

The linggo on the streets is different: Meri Krismas! Kahit barya lang, kuya. (Some money, big brother!.  Barya in the old days was a few centavos; today, barya may mean a one, five or ten peso coin). 

Martinez, 1930:  "As the children and their elders dressed up for Christmas, so were the houses furbished. A general cleaning began several days before Christmas. The busy housewife used her retazos (remnants) that had accumulated to make new curtains for the doors and windows. The bamboo floor was scrubbed with lihia (wood ashes), then polished by means of banana leaves and coconut husks. The husband and elder sons busied themselves in the making of lanterns which were hung in the windows and kept lighted from the first night of the simbang gabi or early morning mass to the new year. Every house was hung with lanterns, giving the street a really festival air. These lanterns, shaped like stars, flowers, fishes, airplanes, or boats, and others with moving figures revolving within them, were much more interesting than the electric lights used nowadays." 

Update 2010:  We learn from here that Christmas season was purely a December affair.  The lanterns were hang and lit only from December 16 to January 1!

Eighty years ago, their lanterns have taken various designs already. Through the years there could have been fads from which lantern designs were derived.  The novelties we find these recent times have something to do with using recyclable materials in keeping with international advocacies to keep planet Earth green.

UP Centennial Lantern Parade, Dec. 2008.  Lanterns look like colorful jellyfishes.

Of course, the lantern has also become the highlight of their own parades.  The Lantern parade of the University of the Philippines has become a traditional event before the students go home for their Christmas holiday. It's been transported to San Francisco where the Filipinos at the South of Market area have been holding a Parol Festival for the last eight years.

Flyer for the 8th San Francisco Parol Lantern Festival & Parade.

Another thing to note:  there's no mention of decorating Christmas trees. There were no Christmas trees in Filipino homes before the second world war? 

Giant Christmas tree at the Araneta Center.
Martinez, 1930:  "Brass bands were much in evidence during the season. They were usually hired by the churches to go around early in the morning to wake up the people for the mass. On Christmas Eve and on Christmas, the bands paraded the streets on their own account, stopping before the different houses to play a piece or two, and receive some sort of gift in return. This was usually made in the form of money or cigars. Children followed these bands as they make their rounds. Brass band competitions lasting till the next morning were held in some localities." 

Update 2010:   Brass bands have been missed for a long time.  We don't remember our town band whether they made the rounds before or after the morning mass.  But if there are bands going around, there would always be children tailing them and having fun. 

Martinez, 1930:  "The simbang gabi has lost much of its glamour. Attendance has dwindled a great deal in the past few years. People seem to prefer to stay in their beds these nights." 

Update 2010:   Probably, this was a sweeping generalization.  Simbang gabi remains a big-attendance event.  

The hours have changed though.  Before the martial law years, morning mass was really early at 4am.  It was moved later during the curfew years.  

We've seen how the simbang gabi has changed time schedules as well from midnight to 9 o'clock last year. We think this is just right; economics and nutritional requirements dictate just one late dinner on Christmas eve. 

Martinez, 1930:  The bibingkahans at the street corners and on empty lots provided places where the people coming home from church could stop to satisfy the cravings of their stomachs. Long rows of crude tables and wooden benches stood under canopies of cloth or leaves. The bibingkas (rice cakes) were served with hot tea. This custom, too, is losing popularity, perhaps due to the more modem restaurants and refreshment parlors. 
Bibingkahan in a commercial center using traditional cooking technology.

Update 2010:  We've seen the resurgence of bibingkahans everywhere using both traditional and modern baking techniques.  We've seen also variants of the original bibingka mix--new flavors and some add-ons.  In MetroManila, we're still confused where to go buy the special ube bibingka; is it Bibingkinitan or Bibingkahon?

Of course, there are a lot of baked choices these days like quick-melt ensaymadas, mamons, cakes and dough-nuts. 

Martinez, 1930:  Church goers lingered around after attending church, and many stayed up all night, the streets and plazas and the beaches and other open places were filled with people. There was always much talk and fun. Nowadays people hurry to their homes after the mass.  

Update 2010:  After the early morning mass, people hurry home or to their places of work.  Excursions to beaches and other tourist places are planned sometime during the holiday season. 

Martinez, 1930:  The lechon, or roasted pig, was as much a part of the Christmas celebration in the Philippines as the turkey is of Thanksgiving Day in America. It was a beautiful as well as common sight to see a slowly browning pig turning on a long bamboo pole above live coals. Later the roasted pigs could be seen carried by two men on the same pole on which it was roasted to some lucky family's table. Choice parts were presented to neighbors and friends. Poorer people bought parts of a roasted pig in local restaurants commonly called carihans.

Alas, the lech6n, too, is slowly losing ground. People no longer take the trouble to prepare something special for Christmas. It is easier to go to a panciteria, and, in the courses offered there, roast pig no longer occupies the place of honor.  

Update 2010:  Nope, lechon is still the desired centerpiece during the family reunions on Christmas day. 

For midnight dinners though, it's hamon.  That's the reason why this popular hamon shop in Quiapo or Binondo does not sleep at all when the season starts.  There's a great demand for it.  Good enough substitute for gift-giving are the boxed hams in the groceries.

There's no lack for meats for Christmas celebrations: roasted chicken or liempo from Andok's or other similar stalls for those who have to bring home the family meal.

For those with a slim budget for a family dinner, there's always a choice among the popular fast food centers--Jollibee, McDo, Chowking, and lately, Mang Inasal, where you eat all the rice you can--and the pizza huts, if a family size pie would be sufficient to brighten up the spirit of Christmas. 

Martinez, 1930:  "What next shall we lose?" 

Update 2010:  "What is lost, and must be recovered?"  Simple:  the meaning of Christmas.  Did the child born in a manger 2,010 years ago morphed into Santa Claus?


Martinez, Alvaro. (1930, December). Reminiscences on Philippine Christmas . Philippine magazine.   27:7(417, 484-85).  Manila: Philippine Education Co. Retrieved from http://name.umdl.umich.edu/acd5869.0027.001

No comments:

Post a Comment