Hero’s last Christmas in 1896 far from merry



Of the many references to Christmas in the five-volume compilation of Jose Rizal’s correspondence, the formal but surly letter dated Dec. 25, 1896, stands out.

From his prison cell in Fort Santiago, Rizal addressed his defense counsel, Luis Taviel de Andrade, with these words:

“I have been waiting for you this morning to speak with you about an important matter, but undoubtedly your pursuits did not permit you to come. If you have time to spare, I should like to speak with you before I appear before the council. I would appreciate it very much, this afternoon, this evening, or [tomorrow] morning.

“Wishing you Merry Christmas, I reiterate, I am, as ever, your attentive, affectionate servant and client who kisses your hand.”

Rizal usually displayed grace under pressure, he was to do so shortly before his execution when a military doctor felt his pulse and was surprised to find it normal, though Christmas 1896 was far from merry.

Over the holidays he was tried for treason and sentenced to die before the dawn of a new year, the ghosts of Christmases past haunted him as he contemplated death and the remote possibility of a pardon from the governor general.

Laughing until dawn

His last merry Christmas was in 1895. As an exile in Dapitan together with Josephine Bracken, his students and friends, he recalled: “We celebrated merrily, as almost always. We roasted a small pig and hen. We invited our neighbors. There was dancing, and we laughed a great deal until dawn.”

There was no lechon, no noche buena feast in Fort Santiago in 1896. Past Christmases brought memories of noche buena at home and abroad, of comfort food, Christmas trees, Nativity scenes, kissing under the mistletoe and other delights. In a letter to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt he wrote:

“I will spend Christmas Eve [1886] with [Dr. Maximo Viola] and young Moret, who is sending you his Christmas greetings. Many thanks for your kind invitation. I should like to see a Christmas celebration with a Christmas tree, but the families who know me have invited me only for the New Year, either because they have no children or their children are already big. At home [in Calamba], the whole family partake of a good soup at midnight, and the children decorate a Belen with an image of the Child Jesus, with animals, etc. This season is the most beautiful and pleasant we have in the Philippines.”

In 1888, Rizal wrote Blumentritt:

“Today is Christmas Eve. This is the feast that I like to celebrate best. It reminds me of the many happy days not only of my childhood but also of history. Whether Christ was born or not exactly on this day, I don’t know; but chronological accuracy has nothing to do with tonight’s event. A grand genius had been born who preached truth and love; who suffered because of His mission, but on account of His sufferings, the world has become better, if not saved. Only it gives me nausea to see how some persons abuse His name to commit numerous crimes. If He is in heaven, He will certainly protest! Consequently, Merry Christmas! Let us celebrate the anniversary of the birth of a Divine Man!”

Packages from home

While in Europe, Rizal eagerly appreciated packages from home that contained all sorts of things: letters, miki noodles, guava jelly, silk handkerchiefs from Baliwag, a pair of personalized slippers with his name embroidered on them, etc.

Once he declined a Christmas gift of P50 from his sister Narcisa and her husband Tonino. He wrote his parents: “I’m very grateful to them but see how they can be repaid, because such a token of affection may compel my other brothers-in-law to do the same and I don’t want such a thing ever to happen. I hope you enjoyed Christmas with all your grandchildren whose number I should like to see tripled upon my return so I can put up a school for them alone.”

Not content with that he also wrote his eldest sister Neneng (Saturnina) to explain further:

“I’m very very grateful to Tonino and Sra. Sisa for the money they sent me. However, if I am to be believed as I wish to be believed now, I beg you not to send me any more money. The source of this money is good but the effect is saddening. My other brothers [in-law] who cannot send me money will be sorry because of their inability to do so. And if they would also send me [some], following the example of the others, I cannot accept it, except with regret, knowing that it has meant a great sacrifice for them. I don’t know if they can understand what I’m trying to say or if I say it correctly; please try to explain it.


Affection enough

“Another thing is that for me even a little suffices. Why should they retrench to give me money? If I need money, I’m going to ask for it. Between us brothers it is not necessary to express our desires; we understand one another. Ordinarily, not all good desires and generosity produce sweet fruits. Your affection is enough for me.”

Rizal’s letters document how he celebrated Christmas, what he thought of Christmas customs and the spirit of the season. They remain touching and relevant for us a century after because Christmas for the Filipino is a time for family.

Happy New Year

One of the simplest and most charming letters Rizal wrote was to his nephew Mauricio Cruz on the importance of study. In it, he gave a simple lesson in English as follows:

“Para Moris en Manila. Aprende mucho porque el que no sabe recibe coscorrones. Te deseo felices Pascuas y buen Añonuevo. Felices Pascuas en Ingles Merry Christmass (sic) Feliz Añonuevo Happy New Year. Moris, you must be a good boy, Your uncle J. Rizal. (To Moris in Manila. Study well because those who don’t learn receive coscorrones [a rap on the head with the knuckles, kutusin in  Filipino]. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Felices Pascuas in English is Merry Christmass [sic] Feliz Añonuevo Happy New Year. Moris you must be a good boy, Your uncle J. Rizal.)”

It is obvious Rizal deserves coscorrones too for misspelling Christmas and reminding many of us who forget, that he was human like you and me. Rizal’s humanity reminds us that we don’t need a body-hugging costume or a bullet in the back to be heroes ourselves.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3QBMYPCCPWL5IDWF55BTBVWSAE UPLB-2008-3****

    f*** the g0dA_m-n roman catholic church that*  is behind all of this!


    • blainz

      You might want to read Rizal’s debate with Fr. Pablo Pastells on religion:


      [just substitute a period for the underscore]

      Here’s an opening gem from the priest…

      “What a pity that such an excellent young man had not lavished his talents on the defense of better causes! How much better it would have been for him to have imitated the skillful polemicist Sarda, spreading among his compatriots the lofty redeeming ideas of the Catholic religion, the only true religion, and of the only legitimate Mother Country of the Philippine Archipelago, the noble Spain!”

      The passage somehow reminds me of incoherent dunces debating Christopher Hitchens, which youtube has preserved for posterity.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3QBMYPCCPWL5IDWF55BTBVWSAE UPLB-2008-3****

        i don’t care anymore. all i want is for that **(#(@## catholic church to be god-damned! so many atrocities it did!

        Jan Hus,
        Inquisition … to name a few.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_M6UL2UG4OGTMCLSYGB5MVJ7USE InSearchOfTruth

        the inquisition always reminds me of the malleus maleficarum…

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3QBMYPCCPWL5IDWF55BTBVWSAE UPLB-2008-3****

         how about Jan Hus?

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/7BM4UDSYLQ6GLO7HALKHRETAH4 ben corpuz


      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3QBMYPCCPWL5IDWF55BTBVWSAE UPLB-2008-3****

         So what? You know Wiki(pedia) in itself is not the dead-end : There are reputable citations in most controversial statements in there. So don’t argue “Is it from Wiki(pedia)?”, rather – where is your “ultimate” source?

      • http://www.facebook.com/jhon.gorme Jhon Gorme

        Can you cite other sources? Or is the smart-ass answer of “ultimate source” your dead end? 

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3QBMYPCCPWL5IDWF55BTBVWSAE UPLB-2008-3****

        Wag na po tayong magpahirapan dito at magdeny. Hay. 

        Bottomline: A lot of people got burned at the stakes because of heresy, courtesy of the roman catholic church. It is a well-known fact. Sorry, I’m too lazy to provide sources now. Anyway, I think you are a staunch believer – well, it pays to know the pros and cons of what you’re into.

      • henri_see

         hitchens a di(k. debates only lightweights. even a moron o’reilly can trounce him.
        glad he’s now a dead di(k.

  • basilionisisa

    Very nice article, thanks! didn’t know that you may also kiss a fellow man’s hand (for whatever reason). glad that the ‘custom’ didn’t perpetuate. (coscorrones to anyone who will make it fashionable.)

  • Rolly257

    We don’t need to be a Rizal. Kailangan lang nating maging Filipino para kilalanin ang Pilipinas sa mundo.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/7BM4UDSYLQ6GLO7HALKHRETAH4 ben corpuz

      Please elaborate.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PXNVCYDD2MCTVMJK2JLWYDA5PM John

    I didn’t like jose rizal as our national hero. Didn’t rizal also made his confession before he died. There was also this retraction issue where he apologized to the church. He  is also an American-sponsored national hero. americans made him a hero. He is also a well known womanizer.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/PXNVCYDD2MCTVMJK2JLWYDA5PM John

      Kung makabayan siya.. baket puro naka-spanish mga libro niya diba. Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika raw ay masahol pa sa malansang isda.. e mga noli me tangere, el filibusterismo, me ultimo adios naka-spanish.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/PXNVCYDD2MCTVMJK2JLWYDA5PM John

        Mamamaalam lang siya.. espanyol pa ginamit niyang wika.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jhon.gorme Jhon Gorme

        There is no law that states nor dictates any national hero. Research, please.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jhon.gorme Jhon Gorme

        He was targeting Spaniards. In other words: “Nagpaparinig”

    • http://www.facebook.com/jhon.gorme Jhon Gorme

      Prove it. Cite sources. Because I can certainly disprove all your accusations (except the last one)

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