by Sara Jamel S. Bangayan
As it is the “season to be jolly,” the Christmas holidays in the Philippines is also the season of the familiar jingling of flattened metal bottle caps and clanking of makeshift drums from recycled tin cans. The usual silence of the night is broken by little voices filling the air, and though sometimes off-tuned, they nevertheless strike a familiar chord within the child in all of us.
While the tradition of caroling comes as natural to a predominantly Catholic country like ours as simbang gabi, the Philippines is not alone in this tradition. The word carol itself, or carole, is of French and Anglo-Norman origin, which implies dancing accompanied by singing. Often associated with Christmas, the practice of caroling started in Europe in the 14th century. Carols during these times were about religious entities, not always about Christmas, and combine two languages such as English and Latin.
As soon as church carols began mixing with Christian folk music during the Victorian England, the tradition of visiting and singing at the same time started. In the 19th century, carols became more related to Christmas due to the commercialization and increasing popularity of the event, with publishers producing anthologies of carols.
And so, as the Christmas season begins to dawn in the country – regarded as the longest Christmas celebration in the world – carolers begin to take their makeshift instruments and belt familiar Filipino Christmas tunes, such as Noche Buena and Sa May Bahay ang Aming Bati.
Enjoyed mostly by children, caroling is done on the streets, singing for random strangers who own the houses they chance upon. A signature chant of “thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo (you are so good), thank you!” is sung when they are given something in return. On the other hand, houses with nothing to give say “patawad (sorry)” and children who sang for these houses sometimes change the lyrics of the chant to “thank you, thank you, ang babarat ninyo (you are so stingy), thank you.”
While usually done by the younger ones, adults often have their share of fun too. In contrast, they usually sing carols for contests, solicitations, or fund-raising activities, with well-equipped instruments such as guitars and tambourines, and usually with preparation done beforehand.
Whether well-prepared or impromptu, caroling in the Philippines is a tradition that adds to the feel of the festivity in the air. Even if carolers can be a bit annoying at times, we should probably loosen up and join in on the fun – lest be called stingy by carolers only aiming to make you feel that Christmas is just around the corner.