ONE night on my way home I passed by a group of small kids on the sidewalk counting their proceeds from carolling. I stopped to watch them with amusement and the scene transported me back to many Christmases ago when we would go from house to house to sing Christmas carols and to collect money. We would equally divide our earnings afterward.
On that Christmas eve, five of us decided to go carolling because our neighborhood store has just displayed some very mouth-watering chocolates that we couldn't afford.
We were usually given 25 or 50 centavos but hoping to earn more, I pointed to the house of Manong Iping, a strict old man who does nothing but drink 'tuba' all day. He seldom talked to anybody but we kids have heard that he had lots of coins stashed inside a "sugong" (a money bank made of bamboo trunk).
After a short conference, we decided to brave it and carol at Manong Iping's.
We sang a hasty "Merry Christmas" and got the surprise of our lives when Manong Iping gave us a whole five-peso coin. Our eyes popped out! He must have been too drunk not to recognize that he had just parted with five pesos or he just decided to be generous to us. For us kids, that was a fortune! We hurried out of the place lest he change his mind and get his money back.
A brilliant idea suddenly flashed in my mind. Four little heads nodded in agreement after I told them my idea.
A few minutes later, my companions Boy and Ron were belting out "We wis you a mary kismas" at Manong Iping's house again. When the door opened, Manong Iping gave them a coin. They bounded towards us, boasting a shiny one-peso coin in Boy's hand. Lani and Bing's turn came and the same thing happened. They came away one-peso richer.
My turn came. I kept a secret smile because I knew I would be the sole owner of a whole peso after my song. I marched resolutely onto the door, took a deep breath and wholeheartedly screetched my own version of "Jinggom Bells". The door did not open when I finished.
I waited, consoling myself that Manong Iping was going to give me two pesos for that song, hence the delay but when the door finally opened, out dashed the biggest dog I had ever seen in my entire seven years of existence, baring sharp teeth a few inches from my face.
Terror immobilized me for a few seconds but suddenly my nerves seemed to break loose and I made a mad dash towards safety.
All hope deserted me when my skirt got stuck to the barbed wire. I closed my eyes and waited for the end with the dog's attack, which did not come. Surprised, I discovered that the dog was walking away. He must have decided that I was too unpalatable a substitute for his Christmas dinner.
My companions have all deserted me after receiving their peso. I slumped to the grass in exhaustion, but the moment I did so, something soft and wet went 'sloooosh' under my buttocks. Instantly, foul odor permeated my nostrils.
You guessed it, I sat on some careless body's 'stool'.
As I was contemplating what to do next, I saw my friends at the store busily munching on chocolates and 'sitsirya' from the proceeds of our carolling without even thinking of me.
I decided to get even with them. Without warning I dashed towards them, rubbing my buttocks on their bodies. I swore they all got a share of my 'loot' but before they realized what was happening, I ran home laughing.
The kids' argument brought me back to the present. Digging into my shoulder bag, I fished out a five-peso coin and tossed it to the pile the kids were about to divide. They looked at me with confusion and joy.
I left them to wonder why I would give them money without listening to their carol. They should be thankful they didn't have to be chased by a dog and sit on someone's stool for that five pesos.
Many people are not too keen or excited about celebrating Christmas this year because they are constantly worrying over the scarcity of money.
What they had missed is that Christmas is really about immaterial gifts of time, smiles, caring, and encouragement from people around us. It is about the gift of friends, the gift of five dirty faces long ago joyfully clanging spoons and softdrink bottle caps strung together and singing carols in their off-key voices. Above all, it is about the gift of love from someone Up there who gave us His only Son.