Christmas is prayer, "mano po ninang," song and dance
By Rudy A. Arizala
Every time I hear “Silent Night”,”Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer,” and other similar melodies, I know that Christmas is coming near – we Christians celebrate it on the 25th of December.
But another song, not really connected at all with the birth of Jesus Christ, reminds me also of Christmas, especially how that blessed day is celebrated when I was a growing up kid in Infanta. It is the song “Oh Joseph, Joseph.”
In 1969 Rudy visited, and prayed at, the spot where Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
I remember in my youth, there was always that young girl, two years older that I, with beautiful eyes and dimples on her cheeks who after Mass on Christmas Day comes to the house in her best Sunday dress, with a red ribbon on her curly hair and wearing a pair of white shoes.
Upon arrival at our house, she would kneel in front of my mother; get hold of Nanay´s right hand; place it on her forehead and say: “Mano Po! Ninang.” And mother would hold her tiny hands to help her get up and say: “Siya Nawa. Kaawaan ka ng Diyos.” Then Nanay would give her a 50 centavo silver coin; guide her to the table laden with foods and tell her: “Ling-ling, kumain ka kahit na anong gusto mo.” But the girl would not touch any of the native cakes such as “pasingaw”, “tamales” and “kinakaw” which were among those Christmas foods on the table saying: “Mayroon din po niyan sa amin.” But she would pick up an apple and several pieces of grapes and eat them with gusto.
Filipinos abroad celebrate Christmas with songs and folk dancing. In this photo, circa 1987, Rudy's daughter Ale dances the tinikling.
Before Ling-ling could say goodbye to her “Ninang”, Nanay would tell her: “Sigue, Ling-ling” kumanta ka muna at magsayaw.” And Ling-ling would oblige singing “Oh Joseph, Joseph won´t you make your mind up” and dance, her tiny finger gesturing and pointing at an imaginary person called “Joseph”.
The same ritual is repeated every Christmas even up to the time that Ling-ling grew up and became a public school teacher. And mother has always a silver 50 centavo coin as “Aguinaldo” to her. Ling-ling is always attired in her best Sunday clothes and wears her pair of white shoes even during the Japanese occupation everytime she goes to our old wooden house on Christmas to say “Mano Po, Ninang.” (See photo of old wooden house with a lone star at the balcony).
The repetition of such Christmas ritual every year made me remember some lines up to now of the song “Oh, Joseph, Joseph” which go like this:
“Oh, Joseph, Joseph, won´t you make your mind up
It´s time I knew just how I stand with you
My heart´s no clock that I can stop and wind up
Each time we make up after being through.
“ So listen Joseph, Joseph time is fleeting
And here and there my hair is turning grey
Mother has a fear wedding bells I´ll never hear
Joseph, Joseph, won´t you name the day.”
Many years later, when mother was already bedridden and I was in Infanta, one late afternoon, we heard a knock at the door of our old house. When I opened the door, I saw an old woman with a familiar smile and glint in her eyes: “Nariyan po ba si Ninang? Nabalitaan ko po na may sakit raw, kaya dinalhan ko siya ng prutas. Mabuti rin pong makain ni Ninang,” handing to me a pandan bag with bananas and other fruits.
I let her in and before I could ask her name, my sister “May” came and said: “Ah, Kuya, siya ay si Ling-ling na ina-anak ni Nanay sa binyag.” So, we guided her where Nanay was lying on bed.
“Nanay”, I gently whispered to her: “Narito po si Ling-ling na ina-anak mo sa binyag. Yon pong palaging namamasko sa inyo, kumakanta at sumasayaw ng Oh, Joseph, Joseph. .” When Nanay heard the words “Oh Joseph, Joseph,” she opened her eyes, looked at Ling-ling, and smiled saying “Mabuti at ako´y na-ala-ala mo.” “Mano Po Ninang”, Ling-ling said as she held Nanay´s frail bony hands. “Ikaw po ay di ko nalilimutan. Di po ako nakadalaw kaagad dahil simula noong ako´y magretire sa pagtuturo, ako ang siyang taga alaga ng aking mga apo.”
“Tinuroan mo rin bang kumanta at sumayaw ang iyong mga apo?” Mother asked her. And Ling-ling said “Opo.” Then mother smiled, try to lift her frail bony arm as if to give Ling-ling her usual blessings during Christmas, and then closed her eyes saying “Kaawaan ka Na Diyos, Ling-ling”(May the Almighty Bless you, Ling-ling).
When Ling-ling bade goodbye and I was guiding her to the door, she asked: “Di po ba ikaw ang anak ni Ninang na Consul?” “Ako nga, ang anak ng Ninang mong layas,” I replied.
Ling-ling smiled saying: “Ikaw po ay laging binabanggit sa akin ni Ninang”, and then departed as if the very same small girl leaving our house every Christmas after saying “Mano Po Ninang” to my mother.
Why did mother has special love and consideration for Ling-ling among her numerous godchildren in baptism? I remember Nanay told us that Ling-Ling was her godchild in baptism when she (Nanay) was still a young lass of seventeen. And since then every year on Christmas Day, rain or shine, after mass, she always go to Nanay and say “Mano Po, Ninang”, dance and sing “Oh Joseph, Joseph”.
Christmas during our childhood is Prayer, “Mano Po, Ninang”; Song and Dance.
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