Christmas in the Philippines has always been about reuniting with loved ones. Most often, it is spent with the people we hold most dear. But not everyone can celebrate Christmas day with their loved ones. The LaSallian looks at the lives of four individuals whose Christmas tales take a different turn to what many are used to.
As another car strolled into the barren space of the gas station, expectant eyes followed the vehicle. Manuel Tolentino stood up—tools leaving the belt around his waist and entering the fine grasp of his fingers. He felt his body going on autopilot as he did his usual routine. If there was one thing he knew how to do, it was fixing cars. A grease monkey—that was what people called him. As Christmas crept closer, he found himself thinking more and more about the food he was expected to put on the table. With his limited salary, his family can only afford a small sampling of the traditional banquet other families had.
The grime and dust spared no vehicle, succeeding to coat every inch of his overworked hands. As his outstretched palm opened to receive the meager payment for his day’s hard work, he had yet another stain on his already filthy uniform. He knew that he wasn’t the most presentable. Manuel simply did what he did because it paid the bills. But he had long ago learned that no matter how oily his uniform became, it was welcomed with open arms on the 24th. Packing his things, he waved goodbye to the other boys. It was time to go home.
Their table didn’t overflow but the family was together. As they gathered around the food they had and basked in the warmth of togetherness, Manuel smiled to himself. Everyone was safe, home, and happy. It wasn’t everything he wanted for Christmas, but it was enough.
In front of Kuya Michael were speeding cars and tall buildings beaming with colors of red, green, and yellow. It is, as they say, the best time of the year. There he was, sitting under a light in front of a gate of a renowned ‘palace’. The static sound of his walkie-talkie greeted him “Merry Christmas”. While his family is at home, he is celebrating Christmas guarding a gate—making sure our University is secured. This kind of scenario is already expected as Kuya Michael said, especially when he has to extend his 12-hour shift to fill in the absence of his other fellow guards.
With his relatives living close, he saw holidays as huge family reunions. He took us back to his childhood as he shared how his usual Christmases went when all he had hoped for were toys and his favorite food. His Christmas when he was a kid is almost the same to his Christmas now that he is a father of two—except that he, at times now, is not present. “Kung wala ako, okay lang,” Kuya Michael reassured. (It is okay if I am not there). Knowing that his absence stabilizes his household’s finances, he shared that he enshrouds his gloom with positive thoughts, “Nagpapakain naman ang Brothers tuwing Christmas, masaya rin.” (The Lasallian brothers give out food here every Christmas; it’s still joyous).
Michael’s struggle is also the struggle of thousands of other security guards whose holidays are spent watching the world go on a spree in front of them while they sit under a single light. His struggle is also that of those whose financial incapacity gets in the way of enjoying the few and far between celebrations. He explained As he said, “Kung wala kaming sasahurin, wala kaming kakainin—ganito talaga ang trabaho.” (If we do not get paid, we will not have food to eat—our jobs have always been this way.)
From a volunteer
In the midst of a crowd inside a Barangay Health Center, one can hear the loud voice of Yolly Magat, a 56-year old barangay health volunteer in Caloocan. Asked why she chose this profession, she answered, “Eh pangalawang buhay ko na ‘to eh.” (This is already my second life). She suffered a fatal pancreatic malfunction that rendered her lifeless for a few minutes before she was miraculously resuscitated back to life. Hence, she dedicated her “second life” to being a volunteer even if it meant having just an allowance that is, most of the time, insufficient for her family.
While she’s with her family on most Christmas days of her life, Yolly admits that a part of her grueling job haunts her on Christmas nights: the families she meets every time she goes on the field. As a part of her job, some days are spent trying to be patient with the people that nurses and doctors tend to. But some days, when the government would launch on-site medical care, she accompanies the nurses and doctors as they meet people from different walks of life. According to her, she has seen almost all—from the richest of rich who can afford vaccines without their help, to a family eating rice with a banana leaf as a plate.
Asked how she sees the upcoming Christmas season, Yolly answered, “Sa totoo lang, parang hindi ko ramdam na magpapasko ngayon.” (Honestly, I cannot feel the upcoming Christmas). She explained that the P10 fare for jeepneys impacted her family greatly. She heavily felt the adjustments she needs to make for her family to survive, and the effect of it on the coming holidays. Hence, there was a lingering question at the end of the interview. She most likely will know how she will spend Christmas this year—but how will the people who barely survive a day spend Christmas? That is something that will haunt her once again.
One of thousands
As the scent of adobo wafted into the humid kitchen air, Mary* mindlessly stirred the pot filled with the family’s lunch. Not of her family’s, but of her employers’. Having been with the family as a “kasambahay” (housemaid) for more than two decades, she has seen people come and go. She witnessed two family members pass away and has been there even before some of the younger members were born.
Remembering one of her more trying experiences when she had to take care of the former patriarch, there were many times when she wanted to leave, and even periods when she did—but she always came back. When asked, she confided, “Kailangan eh. Kawawa naman si misis.” (It needs to be done. I felt pity for his wife.)
Indeed, with the cancer-stricken matriarch requiring round the clock care, it was a trying period for both women. While it was undoubtedly a taxing job, her conscience wouldn’t let her leave—even if it meant spending Christmas away from her own family. She shut off the stove and wiped her hands dry, preparing to leave the kitchen.
She did all the usual things one does for Christmas, but she did them with a family not of her own. She set up the decorations, helped with the guests, and opened presents. Mary counted herself blessed to be able to celebrate with her colleagues and her employers but even with her stomach full of good food and her ears with Christmas cheer, her heart was missing the warmth only one’s closest family could bring. While she didn’t say it outright, her actions showed just how much she missed her family. She’d sit on the front porch indulging in long calls with her family, her face lit up with a rainbow of colors from the Christmas lights and a joyous smile.
Holidays and sacrifices
For many, holidays mean sacrifices—may it be sacrificing one’s self for the family or for their fellow Filipinos. But it is a sacrifice most don’t have a choice but to endure. To look for the embodiment of the Christmas spirit, one need not look far. Take time to look beyond the sparkling lights and the grand presents; greet them a “Merry Christmas” and thank them for their strength.