December Warmth Amidst Chill


Highlanders and lowlanders alike in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Region 1 glow with enthusiasm of seasons that come and bring kin together, awakening friendship and affinity through hallowed culture and custom.

December – ushering Christmas – however, of all holidays, is to all, most anticipated. There’s this redeeming character and allure in its observance, in gathering of families, hearing old Christmas songs/ carols, watching the spit and cackle of a family bonfire and eyeing the ever-present Christmas tree made of plastic and home grown ingenuity – minus the real pine Christmas tree.

For people in Local Government Units (LGUs) and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment – Cordillera Administrative Region (DENR-CAR), who, while anticipating too, of Christmas, will pounce on anybody bent to go beyond what’s prohibited –  murder of pine tree saplings as Christmas trees.

Gone were the times when Yule season was bad for pine trees, when what to people was the merriest season of the year was also disastrous for the pines.

Those were the times when mortals’ hearts, supposed to be brimming with “Peace on earth goodwill to men, “unfortunately spared no thought of concern for pine trees and chopped down saplings which silently begged for mercy.

Every December, when the Siberian winds from Northern Russia comes funneling through Benguet’s hills and mountains, developing frost in Atok Municipality, everyone scampers to look for the warmth amidst the chill of creeping nights, sighing, “Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright,” and all try reassuring, they hope, that the morrow will be alright.

Ay, perhaps, hidden by the warmth amidst the chill is this little in antiquity more curious when any daily laborer looks heavenwards hoping to track the North star and instead hear twinkling lights whispering, “From the eastern mountains, pressing on they come. Wise men in their wisdom, to His Humble home. . .,” and that daily laborer may smile, wondering if the stars are playing tricks on his/her ears.

But no, really! For that daily laborer – you –  just cleaned ears lately. You just realize, after laboring for the whole year, of all festivals of the year, December awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations with a tone of solemn feeling that murmurs with conviviality.

Witness this conviviality by those on the street when they meet someone they know; they say, “Oy, sika met gayam dayta. Puminpintas ka a(or)gumu-gwapo ka a. Ay wen gayam, Merry Christmas!”  Receiver of the message answers, “Merry Christmas met kenka.” For the more serious, they say, “Merry Christmas, apoh!”

Or, merrier souls break forth in jubilee with grander effect of music by shouting into the ears of friends, “Apoh, dinak met agpili, ti ited yu Aguinaldo mi, uray nu kwarta, uray nu siping . . .”

For bachelors who attempted for months and years to win their cases with the women they want in life to nag them to death in their union, they say to such gals, “Uray maysa kiss laeng ti iparabor mo kenyak daytoy a December, isu ti merry Christmas kon. Mapnek nakon.”

Ayna! Ah Kong thinks these bachelors are mighty crazy, hopelessly chasing after women – these creatures who are the cause of men’s troubles.

When in fact, it should definitely be the other case around:  of women chasing men this December and begging, “Please, pretty please,” for the coveted “yes” answer of the men. Ha!  Apay a aya dakayo nga lalaki nga awan pay asawa na, itakder yu met a ti palabra de honor tayo nga lallaki. Dakayo ti aremen da. When will you ever learn? Why you make Ah Kong angry, eh?

Realize, friendly readers, a.k.a. daily laborers, including retirees, that the words, “Merry Christmas,” are only blurted   in December and lifts spirit of the hearer to feeling of enjoyment.

Now, as to feeling of December enjoyment, Ah had this experience last Sunday, late evening as he hurried up along Magsaysay Avenue, Baguio, hoping to talk to a businessman at the wet market before he closed shop.

At Magsaysay Avenue, he passed a group of women, exuding different perfume smells and clustered at the base of the Magsaysay Avenue overpass.

One of them (about over forty years) eyed Ah up and down and before Ah passed her, she said, “Pssst, pssst! Hi pogi!”

Ah, who never heard anybody call him pogi in his life – not even the Missus, his Mother or Lola – felt his breast swell, his heart going, “thump-thump-thump,” that at last, somebody had the sense to realize he was pogi.

Hearing the word, pogi, he thought that this December, he’s going to the Office of Vice-Mayor Faustino Olowan – by the way, Merry Christmas, Vice-Mayor – and tell his old friend, Faustino that someone at last discovered his hidden asset – his being adorable to women.

If his friend, our Vice-Mayor, won’t believe him one hoot, but would rather offer Ah a cupful tapey to cure Ah’s hallucination, cripes, then Ah’s going to the Office of Mayor Benjamin Magalong – by the way, Merry Christmas, Mayor – and pour to the mayor his frustration.

Ah would whisper to Mayor Magalong, “My friend, Vice-Mayor Olowan, talaga, doesn’t believe that a hardened woman of the street is pulling my leg and calling me pogi. Can you possibly convince him otherwise?”

Ah’s imagination of feeling pogi, seeing Olowan and Magalong was demolished when the fortyish woman approached, hooked her claws in Ah’s bicep and hysterically crooned, “Joy to the word (word, a, not world), the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king.” She then switched to Ilocano, enticingly said, “Umayka ta uminom ta arak ken paragsakek sika daytoy a December nga nalammin ta isu Christmas ko kenyam. Basta la ketdi adda ti sangaribum, wenno uray 999 pesos.”

Hearing her, Ah was jolted back to reality from his false dream of pogi. Curiously indeed, Ah knew that she and the women gang loitering at Magsaysay Avenue come nights are branded and known by Baguio folks as “Magsaysay Express Girls.”

Trying to make light of the situation, Ah jokingly told the woman, “Ay, kunak nu wam pepti laeng, adi!”

To which the woman suddenly snarled, knowing Ah won’t take her bait. She said, “Hoy, barat nga barbasan, awan ti one pepti tatta. Ti karne ti baboy tu pay ket 200 hundred pesos.”  Then she turned her back in a huff at Ah and left him.

Ah smiled and continued his way, feeling his feet still firmly on the ground, despite December’s wine flowing like wine. Somewhere, a radio blared, “Please Daddy, don’t get drunk this Christmas, I don’t want to see my Mama cry. . .” Ah hurried towards the wet market.

As Ah stood at Maharlika Building’s rear where he can see the market’s meat section to meet his businessman-friend, he espied the scavengers congregating at Maharlika. Having scoured the city garbage dumps, the scavengers were preparing to rest.

Rest meant the cement pavement at Maharlika with cartons as bedding and plastic sacks as beds.

Ah looked at them gravely, thinking, if December’s been made the season for gathering of family connections, drawing closer bands of kindred hearts which cares, pleasures and sorrows of this world are continually operating to cast loose, then the yearning of one of the scavengers who was softly humming, “Away in a manger no crib for his bed. The Little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. . .” struck at the chord of lonely mortals yearning for home.

It dwells on the beautiful story of the origin of mortal’s faith and the pastoral scenes that accompany its announcement when any laborer whistles, “While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground . . .”

Ah gave a silent salute to the scavenger humming “Away in a manger,” in a camaraderie of friendship of sorts where only humble mortals can understand in the fading light of “God rest you merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay . . .”

Ah’s businessman failed to appear at their   agreed time and he decided to go home, to walk in the darkness, where there is “Silent night, holy . . .all is calm, all is bright . . .”

Walking home, “It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old . . .”  that beautiful season will begin to happen in the skies of highland Cordillera and lowland Region 1 as the days will reach to December 24, and all will “O come, all ye faith, joyful in triumphant, o come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem . . .” to seek  that Baby in a lowly manger.