Christmas in the Philippines

Sikwati

Roland J. Pascual
Sikwati
I reposted a widely-shared Christmas post: 'This is not the year to get everything you want. This is the year to appreciate everything you have.' Take it or leave it.

Many Christmas eves of old, spent alone by choice or by force of circumstance, I would venture out three hours before midnight, just to get a feel of it all – the Christmas rush.

Days, even weeks before, many a madlang peep would be sighing and shuddering in sheer indifference, the skeptics in a pessimist mode, or simply succumbing to the hardships of the times, or even sputtering disgust sorta this way: “Walang Pasko-Pasko ngayon! Anong Noche? Leche, ’ka mo! Bonus? Ni walang mabunot! Itutulog ko na lang ’yan!” 

As the Noche Buena draws near, the heavings would be heard from street corners with greater intensity.

Pero ’wag ka. In those my many a solitary Christmas Eve walk, bumibigay ang puso. The worker, the everyday handyman, the all-day-long tricycle driver, the jeepney driver on his way home, the everyday folk would crowd around makeshift street stalls to get a goodie or two for their Christmas spread.

Always, ito ang bestsellers: a loaf of “tasty” (cheap sliced bread). 

At dalawang order ng spaghetti sa karinderya. Sinisiksik sa maliit na plato. 

At litsong manok. Half lang po. Or kung may wan port po, wan port.

Wan port nito, wan port niyan. Masyado nang mahal ang queso de bola. Nakakabobo. Ay, lalo pa ham! HAMpaslupa me!

Isa nito, dalawa niyan. May buy-1-take-5 ho ba, Pasko naman po eh?

Bigay ko na lang ’yung isa, sagot ng hinihingal at pawisan nang tindera.

The night before Christmas, I was counting what’s left of my cash to the last cent. I wanted to surprise two aging widows who own my favorite karinderya sa palengke of my immediate neighborhood. I had just for so long been longing to. During my hardest of times, they would take me to their fold and embrace me as one of their own.

Bibilhan ko, gustong-gusto ko, ng samu’t-saring prutas. Kahit walang basket.

Sorpresa! 

Tulo-luha mga ‘yon!

I went to my kind of guy, a fellow Waraynon, who sold fruits just ’round the corner. “Mano (kuya in my native Waray) Jim, pikit-mata ito.”

Gets niya agad.

Hmmm. Isa niyan. Tatlo nito. ‘Yan kaya, Kuya, magkano isa? ‘Nay! Ok. Isa na lang niyan. Pero, go, apat niyan, ‘yung banda dun, Koyang!

What came next was a total Christmas shocker.

MANO (after staring at me in the face for the longest): Bigay ko na ‘yan lahat sa ‘yo, Roland. Alam mo, kahit ganito lang ako, feel ko rin Pasko. Mag 3-in-1 tayo. Namahagi ako. Mamamahagi ka. Tas, ise-share ng dalawang matanda sa pamilya nila ang mga ito.

AKO (stupefied, in suspended disbelief): Mali ka, Kuys. Hindi 3-in-1 alok mo. All-in-1 ang panenenti mo.

I paid for the fruits. “Nagnegosyo ka pa. Oks na ‘yan. Bayaran ko.”  

Hindi man natuloy, halos maluha kaming dal’wa. 

I bought him a burger. His favorite. And large Coke, his all-time quencher. To his utmost delight!

As I was slowly taking a walk back to my rented room here in the heart of Quezon City, the country’s biggest, came a message from a dear friend:

“Roland, busy ka ba? Nasa’n ka? You wanna have a good Christmas feel?”

“Well, I just had one. Why?”

“There’s this apartment complex near you. They need an extra hand to repack relief goods.”

“Surely. Where? Am on my way.”

In a jiff, I found myself in the midst of neighborhood volunteers, mostly upper-middle-class citizens, and young, many very young, sorting, repacking goods for Typhoon Odette victims, donations “largely from anonymous donors,” an organizer told me.

But they would much prefer for it to be just a “quiet undertaking.” So I was stopped in my tracks as I began taking shots an hour later.

They were volunteers whose faces they didn’t want seen on cam, even just photographed; names they would not want mentioned. 

The activity was spontaneous, as several pockets of repacking centers had been, where entire families volunteered themselves to be of service. Made possible only by a texting brigade.

By 1-AND-ALL.

I thought my day was done, but what did I know? Our building sikyu was tearing up before me (he’s become a friend) as he reported he had just lost his wallet, dropped it somewhere. 

“Sir Roland. ‘Yan lang talaga pang-Christmas namin ng anak ko, mamatay na po. At budget ko rin hanggang sa next sahod na malayo pa po. Naka-budget na noon pa. Nawala pa po.”

“Didiretsuhin kita, pards. Halos cashless na ako. Pero, ito, hati muna tayo dito.”

The tears finally found him.

Back in my room, I requested my siblings to give a hundred each, and they readily agreed. 

He was night duty later. I would hand over the money to him, and perhaps join him a bit for a sikwati.

Sikwati?

It is a Cebuano word. It is a chocolate beverage made of sugar and ground roasted cacao beans, served hot and thick. We call it “tsokolate” in my native Leyte. Another kababayan suggested, “It is best sipped with danggit and itlog.”

Fortunate are we who had sikwati in our Noche Noche Table. But whatever fare may have found its way as centerpiece for our piging (feast), that would be good enough.

Many had several small packs of cheap noodles, combined to serve as “pancit” for our Birthday Boy’s papiging. And many did line up for the small pack noodles as early as dawn at a nearby barangay distribution center in my parts. Friends told me some “marshals” were heard telling peeps, “Kay yorme yan. Baka si Kap may paayuda din soon.” Oh well.

But sikwati may as well symbolize the spirit of sharing, gladness and cheer, Christmas moments to relish just as sikwati is served, warmly, for always. Like the tired, all-day long dyipni drayber on his way home with a goodie or two for the fam. No ham.

The other day, I reposted a widely-shared Christmas post: “This is not the year to get everything you want. This is the year to appreciate everything you have.” Take it or leave it.

Maligayang Pasko po sa inyong lahat!

MARAMING, MARAMING, MARAMING SALAMAT PO, MGA KAIBIGAN KO AT PAMILYA! – Rappler.com

Roland Jimenez Pascual did print and TV coverages in the past. He has long been a freelance researcher/journalist.