By Juan L. Mercado

IT DEPENDS where this carol is sang. If warbled by grimy street-kids or plump matron, in Cebuano-speaking areas, it’s the 1933 carol: “Kasadya Ning Takna-a.” If crooned where movie-Tagalog is lingua franca, then it’s the hijacked version: “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit.”

Does it matter?

Whether sang in the original Cebuano or Tagalog, this carol is about a season that gives us – to lift a line from the usually blasé New Yorker Magazine — “an array of luminous images that hint at all manner of annunciations”..

Like other kids, my grand-daughter Kristin senses this truth. At four, she’s conscious of carols sang by her mother, nanny, off-key kids who cluster, at twilight, on her home’s driveway, tv. And yes, why not? Even her Lolo.

Her eyes sparkle as she dons white gown and angel wings for nursery school Christmas program. “We kneel, Lola,” she explains. When? The wife asks. “When we sing: ‘Fall on your knees. O, hear the angel voices….”

This old man will long be gone when Kristin enters college. By then, she’ll have heard her childhood insight repeated by Hamlet, shivering on a dank Danish castle rampart: “That season comes wherein our Savior’s birth is celebrated / ….The bird of dawning singeth all night long/ So hallow’d and so gracious is the Time.”

This is a “gracious time” of carols. These songs go back, we’re told, to the 13th century. And the old favorites endure: “Adeste Fildelis”, “Silent Night” and others., Whatever happened to those lilting Spanish carols like “Nacio, Nacio Pastores”? Grey-haired “oldies” like us wonder. An army of kids, besieging godparents, meanwhile, sing:. “Mano Po Ninong, Mano Po Ninang”.— and Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit.

Yet “in a country that boasts of the longest celebration of Christmas, it remains supreme irony that not the slightest effort has been made to attribute the beloved carol “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit” to it’s author : Vicente D. Rubi” of Cebu, writes Columnist Jullie Yap Daza.

Panorama Magazine recalls that, in 1933, Cebu Christmas festival officials asked Composer Rubi to sign up for a carol or dayegon competition: Rubi did — and asked the equally-young then Mariano Vestil to scribble the lyrics for his music. Their carol – Kasadya Ning Takna-a. ( “How Joyous Is this Season.” ) — won hands down.

“Today, wherever Cebuano is spoken – Bohol, Negros Oriental, Southern Leyte, Northern Mindanao, Cebu and elsewhere — carolers still belt out the same infectious beat that Rubi and Vestil blended so brilliantly 74 years ago,” Philippine Daily Inquirer noted. . Bulahan ang tagbalay nga gi awitan. ( “Blessed are the homes where carols are sang.” )

A Manila-based record company, however, hijacked Rubi and Vestil’s carol for P150. Nong Inting, who died in 1980, “was denied what was due him in royalties,” Daza wrote. The platter firm conned Rubi and Vestil with legal dodges until their deaths..

That flies in the face of Christmas. But it’s par for the course in a country where an “elite of thieves” govern And those who crassly exploited Rubi and Vestil have kindred spirits here: in the cartel that flogged an onerous levy of coconut farmers, loggers who trigger today’s flash floods to generals who fiddled with skimpy retirement benefits of soldiers.”

“Nong Inting” became an impoverished widower. Until his death in 1980, he’d shuffle to his gates and teach startled carolers — oftentimes kids banging bottle-cap tambourines – how to sing his dayegon. And in 2004, lyricist Vestil went to his grave, bereft of benefits and recognition other than an inside-page-below-the-fold newspaper obituary. Tiene cara de hambre, the orphan tells the Crucified in the movie classic: “Marcelino, Pan Y Vino..

In Charles Dickens 1843 classic “A Christmas Carol”, the miser Ebneezer Scrooge dismissed what Vestil and Rubi celebrated as “humbug”. But Christmas is not about tinsel, red-nosed reindeers, even shattered diets..

It is about a Child who healed the sick, fed the hungry, showed compassion, taught that one should lay down his life for friends — and did so. He also gave answers to basic questions that confront ordinary mortals like us: pain, suffering, loss and death.”

“The Bethlehem story, in Luke’s Gospel, gives us an ‘array of luminous images’, the theologian Catalino Arevalo SJ writes in his book: “They Shall Call Him Emmanuel”.( We see ). “the night sky alight with bright angels, simple shepherds startled from sleep, magi…It is a happening, above all, for the deepest heart

“Christmas is not, first of all, a revelation for the intelligence….It is looking at a Son who was born for us, who would die for us, because we mattered to him, because we are infinitely cherished, infinitely loved…At the crib, the first task is to look, and looking to adore. Venite adoremus, the old Latin carol says. Come let us adore him”.

“The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight,” the 1861 (?) carol says of the little town of Bethelhem . Indeed, the unique grace of Christmas is that both carol writer and carol thief can say, together with t kings and shepherds : “Let us go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has made known to us.”

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