Filipinos really do enjoy singing, and we let our inner singers unleash, especially around the holidays. Children and adults alike sing Christmas carols door to door in the hopes of receiving an “aguinaldo” of candy or money in exchange. Singing Ang Pasko ay Sumapit to Christmas in Our Hearts while making improvised drums out of used tin cans and flattened metal bottle caps. Caroling evolved into a means for people to bond, give to others, and make money while having fun.
Meanwhile, caroling has been embedded in our culture and tradition. Additionally, we have sung some Christmas carols frequently over the years whenever we go caroling. We could be too early to leave our homes and go caroling. But first, let’s take a look at the history of caroling and iconic Christmas carols in the Philippines as part of our preparation.
Namamasko po! Looking back at the history of Christmas caroling in the Philippines
When was caroling born in the country?
In the Philippines, caroling dates back to the time of the Spanish colonizers. It started out as a choir performing villancicos (a Christmas carol in Spanish) in Spain. After 333 years as a Spanish colony, the Philippines gradually adopted it as our own custom. Initially performed primarily at a Holy Mass, villancico gradually made their way onto the streets due to their popularity. Some of the more naughty carollers would add less-than-religious phrases and green jokes to the lyrics, much to the disapproval of the clergy. When Spanish rule ended, villancico began to fade, making way for carols sung in English and local languages.
Filipino carols like Invitation for Nativity and Responsarium were already being sung as early as 1894. Marcelo Adonay, a composer, conductor, and educator from Pakil, Laguna, wrote them. Since then, additional Filipino musicians have created Christmas carols, which are still largely well-known today.
A Filipino Christmas song inspired by World War II
Although we may be better familiar with the jingles like Sa Maybahay ang Aming Bati and Ang Pasko ay Sumapit, there is also the eerily beautiful Payapang Daigdig (Peaceful World) after the atrocities the country has endured throughout World War II. Felipe Padilla De Leon, a national artist, composed Payapang Daigdig, the Filipino adaptation of Silent Night which was first performed during the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.
When De Leon awoke to find his beloved city of Manila in ruins, he claimed to have written the song. Although Payapang Daigdig isn’t as cheery as the other Christmas carols, de Leon wrote it with the intention of calming the public’s anxieties and providing them with encouragement in the face of adversity.
In the Philippines, Christmas songs have been around since 1933. Kasadya ning Taknaa, a piece by Vicente D. Rubi and Mariano Vestil, served as the catalyst. It is a Cebuano song that is titled “How Joyous is the Season” in its literal translation.
Meanwhile, musical director Josefino Cenizal wrote the now-famous Christmas hymn Ang Pasko ay Sumapit with lyrics by National Artist Levi Celerio. It was a version of Rubi’s work in Tagalog but not a literal translation.
Unfortunately, the original song wasn’t given enough credit. It was given to a more current rendition—the one by Celerio, who wrote it in the 1950s. Rubi’s descendants, as well as other Cebuanos and Bisayans, continue to press for recognition of Rubi as the melody’s rightful creator.
Levi Celerio also wrote other carols such as Pasko na Naman (Its Christmas Again) and Noche Buena with composer Felipe Padilla de Leon. These two songs became popular during the 1960s. The Misa de Aguinaldo or dawn mass usually ends with it as its concluding song. Another popular songs are Sino si Santa Klaus? (Who is Santa Claus?) and Mano Po Ninong.
The era of Christmas in Our Hearts
Despite the abundance of Christmas songs from the Philippines, one song stood out above the rest. It’s Christmas in Our Hearts, a song that was first inspired by Chari Cruz-1988 Zarate’s lyrical poem Ang Tubig ay Buhay. Jose Mari Chan thought the composition was lovely and that it would make a wonderful Christmas song. The next step was for him to discover Rina Caiza as a co-writer for his song and a singing partner.
Eventually, he chooses his daughter Liza over Lea Salonga and Monique Wilson, among other potential candidates. For his 1990 album bearing the same name as his smash hit, Christmas in Our Hearts, he went on to write more singles like A Perfect Christmas and The Sound of Life as well as covers numerous well-known Christmas carols.
The song went on to become a timeless classic that encouraged many other musicians to compose their own music to honor the Christmas celebrations. Furthermore, Christmas in Our Hearts went on to become the best-selling Original Pilipino Music (OPM) album in Philippine music history. It outperformed its previous album from the year prior, Constant Change, which had 800,000 copies sold to date. It also received Diamond status from the Philippine Association of the Record Industry (PARI).
The modern age
These weren’t the only songs to have an impact on the Philippine Christmas music scene. In recent years, media companies like ABS-CBN and GMA have also started producing Christmas station IDs. Such as their well-known Star ng Pasko, Thank You, Ang Babait Ninyo, Thank You For the Love, and others.
When it comes to Christmas songs, those from other nations have an impact on the local music scene as well. Like All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey, My Only Wish (This Year) by Britney Spears, Last Christmas by Wham, and many others. Mariah Carey’s Christmas songs have actually maintained the top of the charts ever since their launch, both nationally and internationally. For a song that is almost three decades old, that is quite an accomplishment!
Other local musicians, including APO Hiking Society, Eraserheads, Ryan Cayabyab, and many others, have created Christmas songs over the years. Himig ng Pasko, Sana Ngayong Pasko, Fruitcake, and others are a few of these. Additionally, many modern musicians produced holiday songs, like Nicole Asensio’s See You This Christmas, Ben&Ben’s Bibingka, and Jed Madela’s A Very Merry Christmas.
“Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo (you are so good), thank you!” has become a catchphrase, sung when they receive something in exchange. While children who sang for these homes occasionally changed the chant’s words to “thank you, thank you, ang babarat ninyo (you are very stingy), thank you,” homes without anything to give instead say “patawad” (sorry).
It could be reasonable to plan to carol this year that things are getting better and health restrictions are being eased. Of course, still in small groups and kept wearing our face masks.