Friday, December 12, 2008

Here we go a-caroling

If you happen to visit the Philippines at this time of the year, you will see many groups of children and adults alike caroling on the streets at night. They are singing for a little gift of cash for children, a bigger amount for adults. I don't know what is considered acceptable these days. During my time, we were happy to get 25 centavos from a house.

Caroling is one tradition I grew up with back in my home country. I was first allowed by my parents to go caroling with friends around age 7. We lived in a campus where neighbours knew each other, so it was safe for small kids like us.

It was an exciting time to go out every night with friends. We roamed around the neighbourhood as soon as it got dark till about 8 or 8:30 pm. We became bolder as we got older, and ventured farther and farther. But it was still within the campus.

We considered 4 or 5 as a good number of carolers per group. Less than that, homeowners might think the rest of the group was just hiding behind the bush or at a corner, waiting to have their turn. We tried this sometimes. In effect, the same group was trying to get a shot at the same house twice. Smart! But adults were suspicious and quickly dismissed very small groups of carolers with "Patatawarin" (Sorry). Smarter! Also, if there was just one or two of you, adults would give a very small amount, if at all.

At the end of the night, we split our earnings by the number of singers so it was really better to keep the group fairly small so everyone got a good share.

We made our own musical instruments. I used to collect pop bottle caps, flatten them with a hammer, make a hole in the middle and string them into a circle with a galvanized wire. They sounded like bells. Others might bring a can and a stick. Others might have two rocks they hit together. We probably made more noise than music, but that was for the homeowners to decide. They could give us money quickly or dismiss us with Patatawarin as soon as we sang Jingle bells....

We took note of which homes were generous or stingy, and which had dogs. We avoided the latter two. We went back to the givers, say, 2 or 3 days later. We tried not to go to their homes on consecutive nights or they might say, "Kayo na naman!" (It's you again!) and not give anything.

Sometimes we were lucky to find a home that always gave. This might be our own homes, or our next door neighbour, or the rare regular giver kind. More often than not, people gave randomly. Many said "Bumalik kayo sa Pasko" (Come back on Christmas Eve.) People tend to be more generous closer to December 25.

But there were Scrooges too. When we encountered such a home, we sometimes softly sang to ourselves, "Thank you, thank you ang babarat ninyo thank you!" (...You're so stingy, thank you!) as we left.

Caroling ended on December 24. On December 25, people were already tired from the celebrations and probably sleepy from staying up late on the 24th, they were no longer in the mood to hear carols. "Tapos na ang Pasko!" (Christmas is finished!).

I probably stopped caroling at age 12 or 13. At that age, it no longer felt appropriate. I knew I was outgrowing it when I started to feel embarrassed to sing especially when I had a classmate in the house. I sort of hid in the dark.

For adult carolers, it was different. They were more musical, usually had at least a guitar, and gave advance notice to people. There might be an occasional group that would just sing in front of your gate without notice, but they are the kind you will enjoy. Beautiful singing, guitar, sometimes speakers too. It would be a shame not to give anything.

After a long break, I went back to caroling when I joined a group of college friends from Christian Communicators. We went to a few homes that our leader knew. Our purpose was not only to bring cheers but to have fellowship and share the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. I can't remember if we raised funds too.

In the following years, I joined our church choir in caroling. This was a real musical treat to people we visited. We sang in four voices, a capella or with a guitar. It was lovely. In between songs, someone shared his or her testimony about God's salvation. At the end, someone shared the gospel or an encouraging Christmas message. Then we shared a sumptuous snack prepared by the host.

Here in Canada, the caroling tradition is still alive among Filipino groups. I have joined our University Alumni Association's caroling 2 or 3 times. It was a fundraiser for some project in the Philippines. There was a lot of eating, too.

Last year, I joined the Filipino group at our church in caroling at the homes of new immigrants from the Philippines. I played the guitar. We brought them gifts and goodies. We went to give--not to receive--not just goodies but more than the the Christmas message, God with us.

I missed caroling this year. But plans are already in place for the one next year. I hope I can go then. It's a good tradition.

No comments: