Saipan — The last time I experienced the Christmas holidays in Manila was 26 years ago. Which means that I’ve already lived half of my life, so far, on “foreign land” — the Marianas, which ceased to be foreign to me many years ago. That was probably around the same time when young locals would ask me, the “outsider,” questions about their home island’s history and politics and economy. They assumed I knew the answer, and more often than not, I did. Come to think of it, I should.
In any case, when I left the Philippines in October 1993, the top-of-the-line technological wonders for a reporter were the alpha-numeric pager and the fax machine. If I discuss these things with today’s youth, I would probably come across as a caveman rhapsodizing about the joy of making fire with a rock.
It is likely that technology will continue to improve (or, if you’re a Luddite, worsen) our lives. I do not miss the desktop personal computer that took so much space on one’s desk, and I’m glad that VCRs — and soon, DVD players — are now basically historical artifacts. Like vinyl records, cassette tapes or typewriters.
I do not mind getting old and older. Probably because I can’t do anything about it. Also, as I get older, I seem to be enjoying the holidays more than I ever did as a young adult or even as a child. Christmas, for me, starts on Dec. 1 when any self-respecting radio station in Christendom should be playing Christmas songs already. (Today, the youth will ask, What’s radio? And what’s TV? Why do you say “dial” when you use the phone?)
Christmas in any case signifies that another year is about to end, and a new one will start very soon. Renewal. Another chance. The ardent persistence of life. Joy to the world.
It’s hard to imagine celebrating Christmas without Christmas carols. (Or alcohol, for that matter.) Music after all, to quote a Hindu poet, “is the purest form of art, and therefore the most direct expression of beauty.” I don’t think Tagore was referring to a song like Madonna’s version of “Santa Baby,” but yes, one of Christianity’s greatest events requires a soundtrack, and so over the years I have compiled my own Christmas playlist.
Compared to my forward-looking outlook on life, my list of favorite Christmas tunes is based on nostalgia. Not that I liked them when I first heard them in grade school or high school. Back in the day, I would storm out of an office if a Barry Manilow (aaugh!) or an Air Supply (aaugh!) song was playing. Today, I would most likely sing along. With feelings. And jazz hands.
It’s the same thing with my Christmas playlist. They were just songs I heard when I was a boy or a teenager. Now that I’m neither I liked them a lot. I like them so much that I don’t want to listen to them a lot. Perhaps two or three times during the entire holiday season, and that’s it. I want to enjoy them the way a connoisseur sips his cognac.
Check them out on YouTube:
• A Merry Christmas with the Four Aces. This was one my old man’s vinyl records. The album cover shows four pomaded men, each wearing a suit and a bow tie, gesturing while singing apparently to two huge Christmas candles that I probably assumed were dynamites.
• Jackson 5 Christmas Album. When I was a second grader in Manila, the Jackson Five were considered America’s greatest contribution to human civilization. Well, at least I did. The songs of the Jackson 5 were constantly played just about anywhere, but I was already in college when I finally realized who was really kissing Michael Jackson’s mom underneath the mistletoe last night. It wasn’t Santa Claus!
• A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi. Whenever I listen to these elegant melodies, I usually take a look outside the window, just to check if it’s not snowing. On Saipan.
• “O Tannenbaum” by Nat King Cole. A German tune sang by an American whose voice can brighten up the room like multi-colored lights on a real Christmas tree with a lingering pine smell.
• “The Christmas Song” by Al Jarreau. I was in 10th grade when I first heard his version of this song on FM radio. The Philippines was sitting on a socio-political-economic cauldron that was nearing the boiling point. But Al Jarreau sang “Merry Christmas to you,” and somehow it was.
• “Twelve Days of Christmas” by Bob & Doug McKenzie. “On the first day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me: a beer.”
• “Do they Know it's Christmas” by Band Aid. It seemed that for the entire month of December in 1984, this was the only Christmas song played on the radio. It highlighted the vocal prowess of Boy George and Simon Le Bon, among other mostly British musicians.
Here's to you, raise a glass for ev’ryone
Here's to them, underneath that burnin’ sun
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?”
Now we do.
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety, and is the author of three books available on amazon.com