A clutch of carols | Inquirer News

A clutch of carols

/ 09:17 AM December 06, 2011

“That is my favorite carol,” declares our  granddaughter Kristin,8. “Mine too,” says Kathie,5. The  two meant “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit”—the hijacked Tagalog version of  “Kasadya Ning Takna-a,” a winning daygon   first played at the 1933 Cebu Christmas festival.

The two kids plan to carol in their subdivision. “When?” we ask. “After   Alexia and Tai Noelle arrive.” Their two cousins, aged  9 and 6, will fly in from San Francisco for Christmas.

“Being fluent in French, they can belt out “Joyeaux Noel,” the wife tells the two. “But ‘Kasadya’ will be new to them.”


The late Vicente D. Rubi of Cebu composed  “Kasdaya.” Mariano Vestil scribbled the lyrics. A Manila recording company swiped their work in 1938. Both were never compensated or given credit.


Until his death in 1980, impoverished widower Rubi would shuffle to his gate and teach startled carolers how to sing his daygon. Lyricist Vestil went to his grave  in 2004, noted only by an inside-page-below-the-fold newspaper obituary.

“It remains supreme irony that not the slightest effort has been made to attribute the beloved carol  ‘Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit’   to  Vicente D. Rubi  and  Mariano  Vestil  of Cebu,” columnist Jullie Yap Daza  wrote.

As Christmas approaches, impoverished promdis again trek into cities from upland barangays. They sing, for a few coins, now rarely heard  daygons. Cops, meanwhile, round up out-of-school kids who carol with bottle-cap tambourines. They zigzag between vehicles in heavy traffic.

These grimy “street troubadours” never  heard of an ex-president who’ll listen to carols in a hospital suite-as-prison-cell.  Tell them about a “midnight” chief justice whose 19-0 decisions are “untarnished by a negative vote” against the jailed  president. All you get is a blank stare.

These mean nothing to often food-short kids who should be in school. Here, 22 percent of people are undernourished. Compare that to Malaysia’s two percent. Poor nutrition stunts almost a half (47 percent) of kids in Negros Occidental and Northern Samar.

Yet their carols are about “a season that gives us  an array of luminous images that hint at all manner of annunciations,” the New Yorker magazine notes.


Some carols go back years, and old favorites like “Adeste Fildelis” and “Silent Night” endure. But whatever happened to those lilting Spanish carols? Grey-haired “oldies” like us wonder.

“Every Christmas Day, we still sing these  villancicos (Spanish carols)  songs, in front of the belen,  in my mother’s home,” Ricky Gallaga e-mailed from Bacolod City.  “We have done  that over the years.

“Our Nativity set survived World War II. It  has been in our family for the past 80 years. In the ’50s, my grandaunt, Tia Trina, would sit in front of the piano and lead the family singing these villancicos.

“Among the carols we sing are “Vamos, pastores, vamos, vamos a Belen” to “A ver en aquel nino, la Gloria del Eden.” My  mother continues this tradition. And my brothers and a sister teach these to our grandchildren.

“These carols truly reflect what Christmas is all about. I feel sad when people tell us to be politically correct and greet each other ‘Happy Holidays.’ Christmas is Christ.”

Filipino overseas workers brought these  carols to over 193 countries and territories. Roughly 3,752 Filipinos leave daily today. That’s 28 times the first clutch of timid migrants who left five decades back. They’re young. Majority are   between 25 to 44 years old. And 36 out of every 100 have a college degree.

Their remittances or padalas home may crest at $23 billion this Christmas,     up from $14.4 billion in 2007. Filipinos are world’s fourth highest remitters, after Indians, Chinese and Mexicans.

“Malapit na ang Pasko mahal,” says a typical text message from the spouse left  at  home. (Majority are male.) “Ang daming gastos. Dagdagan mo ang padala mo.” (Christmas is near, dear. Our bills are increasing.  Add to your remittance.)

“Pasko na anak,” a parent writes. (It’s Christmas, son.) “Padala ka naman ng bagahe, Sabay mo na rin ang aginaldo namin.” (Send the pack. Include our gifts.)

“Few bother to  say salamat,” wrote an OFW. Of the 10 lepers cured, only one came back to give thanks? “Christmas in the Middle East is just an ordinary working day unless it falls on a Friday … It’s the season of joy for most, but it’s also the season of homesickness for us.”

His blog reminds us of one Christmas Eve  at the Society of Divine Word’s mother house in Rome. Star lanterns festooned Verbiti. Lights blinked from a Nativity crib or belen. Even lechons were on the table.

Filipino OFWs sang carols. These included “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit” and “Pasko Na Naman.” Tears slipped past tightly closed eyes.  Christmas  is “Emmanuel God with us” in the dark, loneliness and pain, Filipino SVD fathers told their expat flock.

Here is part of the diaspora’s untabulated costs. Hidden behind those foreign exchange remittances are pain, separation, alienation, trauma even. Tiene cara de hambre. (“You have the face of hunger.”)

“The Bethlehem story gives us an array of luminous images,” theologian Catalino Arevalo SJ writes. “The night sky (is)  alight with bright angels, simple shepherds startled from sleep, magi. It is a happening for the deepest heart…”

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“The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight,”  says the 1861 carol of the little town of Bethlehem. Indeed,  the unique grace of Christmas is that carol composer and carol thief, migrant and stay-at-homes can say together with kings and shepherds: “Let us go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has made known to us.”

TAGS: carols, Christmas, Holidays

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