Monday, November 03, 2008

Streetchildren, carols and Christmas

This was my column last Wednesday, October 29.

We don’t really need reminding—after all, Christmas is probably the most anticipated season in this country, and is so for various personal reasons.

We all have our own personal indicators of the arrival of the season. Unfortunately, most of the signs today have been created by commercial considerations rather than by religious or at least altruistic reasons. Global warming and the current financial meltdown have done away with nippy mornings and peace and goodwill to mankind. So we are left with the Christmas carols, the Christmas decorations, those ubiquitous Christmas lights, and of course, the carolers.

My own personal and amusing reminder of the impending season happened yesterday as my friends and I were driving on Adriatico Street in Manila after lunch. As usual, we got stuck in traffic right before Quirino Avenue (whatever they are doing at Quirino Avenue and why it is taking so long are questions that don’t seem to have answers at all). Thereupon a band of streetchildren descended upon us. We were hapless prey.

We are all familiar with the sight because streetchildren who beg using all kinds of subterfuge—from those who go through the motions of “cleaning” windshields to those who put on performances that they try to pass off as entertainment—have become constant fixtures on our streets. Since they are on the street 12 months a year, they simply adjust their greetings to go with the occasion. I’ve witnessed streetchildren singing love songs in February. The weirdest

I’ve seen were streetchildren greeting people “Happy Holy Friday.”
Obviously, they are now singing carols. Or at least, that’s what I think they were singing. Nobody really knows for sure these days because many carols have been given new twists and all kinds of treatments they don’t anymore remind you of what the season is supposed to be about.

What was different this time around was that in the words of a friend who is in the modeling business and who was the designated driver at that moment, the streetchildren now employed “production values.” As one child was giving a spirited rendition of a carol right beside the driver’s seat, an accomplice was uninhibitedly gyrating to the beat in front of the car. The kids had choreography! And they knew exactly how to position themselves around the car. The assigned dancer planted herself in front of the car so that everyone in the car had an unobstructed view of her vigorous and determined assertions. Malicious minds would smell subtle coercion in the act as well since there was no way a car could move forward without running over the hapless “entertainer.”

Our streetchildren are becoming more and more innovative and creative each day.
I’ve heard of stories involving streetchildren who feign all kinds of illnesses while knocking on car windows. A friend once related her own harrowing experience with a “maabilidad” streetchild who was spurting blood from her nose while she was begging. She really thought the kid was having a nose bleed and tried to bring the child to the nearest hospital. The child insisted on just having money. The blood turned out to be ketchup mixed with water, or at least she hoped that was what it was.

I’ve also had a number of personal experiences with streetchildren who sell sampaguita (jasmine) garlands on the streets. I’m a sucker for these kid vendors because I’ve always had this paradigm that at least these kids try to make a decent livelihood rather than just begging or fleecing money from unsuspecting or gullible people. I am sure many of these kids are honest and really look at what they do as a livelihood. But I also know that for many of these kids, the garlands only serve as props. And worse, some deliberately shortchange motorists by not giving the exact number of garlands or the exact change. Some time their actions just before the light turns green and motorists have no choice but to move on because there’s a long line of vehicles behind with impatient drivers honking their horns as if there’s no tomorrow.

It’s like we have an on-the-job training scheme in place in this country for teaching people how to be “maabilidad” (street smart). And our children are learning the ropes quickly.
I’m not really sure if this penchant for improvising and finding creative ways to get around a problem is something that we can take pride in. I am told that this is one of the competencies that foreign employers like about our overseas Filipino workers. We always know how to make do with whatever little we have. And sometimes, we take the sorry lack of resources to ridiculous extremes and make them fodder for jokes and source of entertainment.

Anyway. Christmas is a good 56 days away, but everyone who stands to benefit from the season is already pulling all the stops as if they want to make sure that the season arrives this year. In many department stores, this has resulted in a rather perplexing sight: Halloween decors mixed with the tinsels, the poinsettias and the mistletoes.

Many of my e-mail groups have now become besieged with all kinds of requests for ideas and suggestions on how to make their Christmas parties this year more memorable—which really means upping the ante in terms of being more colorful, more fabulous, perhaps, even more hilarious than last year’s. I think I have seen dozens of requests for possible themes, motifs, etc, for their Christmas party this year.

A number have responded with interesting ideas and suggestions—from an Oscar’s-inspired party, to gypsies and pirates, etc. One suggestion put a temporary halt to the burst of ideas and suggestions: How about making the birthday of Jesus Christ the theme of the Christmas celebration? Quite a thought, really.

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