As the nights grow longer and the chilly wind blows by us now and then, one can immediately tell what is going on. The sparkling lights that go with the jolly tunes. The colorful garlands hanging around loosely, and the news program announcing the countdown of days – nobody can deny Christmas is coming, although many of us are busy, yes, finishing our work for the Christmas vacation to come.
Once the –ber months start, one sees the new stalls around malls – or even along the side streets – of things that glitter and shine, things of red and green; also abound are star-shaped parol, dangling from store fronts in every bright, gaudy color with designs of asymmetrical reindeer, Santa Claus and anonymous snowmen, illuminated with flickering lights.
And though you’re just passing by them, despite how busy you may be, you could not help but be reminded that Christmas is indeed near, if not here.
While we see a very jolly break ahead, there remain those people who continue to seek an opportunity to work. And no, they are not Santa’s elves.
One of them is Jacinto Bautista, 42 years old. “Mang Jack” as he prefers to be called, is a parol maker and vendor, along with his wife and two kids. They work as handicraft makers at a factory, and they struggle to seize what opportunities they can find to stay afloat for the season, including their own parol business. For Mang Jack, Christmas has always been a good time for him, for it motivates people to buy his parols.
He could definitely be more hopeful, though. “Matanda na ako at may binubuhay pa akong dalawang anak, hindi ko na alam kung magkakaroon pa kami ng pagkakataon na mamuhay ng maganda [I am now old and still I am raising two kids, I am uncertain if we will ever have the chance to become well-off],” sighs Mang Jack.
Mang Jack’s small production site and home is a home truly fit for a Christmas, filled with parol of every size and color and lighting scheme. The rest of his family were nonchalant, unfazed by the beauty of the creations they had fashioned. The parol brightens the entire place, concealing the cracks on the walls of the unpainted house-slash-production facility.
Mang Jack’s wife, Aling Belinda, is present with their two young sons, Jomar, 15 years old, and Susan, 10 years old. The other two children of Mang Jack and Aling Belinda are absent. They are in prison; the oldest one was arrested for pushing illegal drugs while and the next sibling was arrested for theft.
“Hindi naman nila magagawa ito kung hindi nagkasakit si Jack ng bronchitis [They would not have done it if Jack didn’t get bronchitis],” laments Aling Belinda
Aling Belinda is the one who started the parol-making business of the family three years ago, when the eldest son committed his first offense.
Aling Belinda describes how she started the business using the money her imprisoned son gave her. “Pagkatapos ng trabaho sa factory, gagawa ako ng ilang parol dito sa bahay at ibebenta sa palengke pagdating ng Sabado [After work at the factory, I make a few parol here at home and sell them in the market every Saturday],” she recounts.
A year after, Mang Jack recovered, and started selling parols along the street weeks before Christmas. Eventually, everyone in the house came to know how to make and sell parols for a living.
The income accumulated from selling parol is never enough. The family just adjusts and allocates their income according to their everyday needs. Jomar adds, “Kapag malapit na ang Pasko lang kami makakakain nang marami dahil sa parol [It’s only when Christmas is near that we have a lot to eat because of the parol].”
Jomar still retains a sense of wonder as he sees his father make parols. Susan, on the other hand, says that the work is not easy, and that she could no longer play with her friends outside. Jomar and Susan have calloused, rough hands that were bruised at an early age from the crafting of parol lanterns.
Mang Jack insists that life has many challenges and ordeals that cannot be avoided; some are just easier than others. He believes that there is always a need to be content and to give thanks for what they have. “Kahit na ganito ang buhay, minsan kailangan pa rin nating i-enjoy [Even if life is like this, sometimes we still need to enjoy,” exhorts Mang Jack.
With his tired, exhausted frame, Mang Jack celebrates Christmas despite the sorrows brought on by the year that had passed, always with the prayer of a better year to come. We left their home with a small parol we bought from them.
Christmas is a time for giving. Giving not only physical things, but also giving hope for a better future.