I have always spent my Christmas in Samar, except for two instances when I could not go home for reasons I don’t remember now. Having lived more than one third of my years outside Samar, I could have “christmasses” in other places here or even abroad. But like a faithful Boholano during town fiesta, I always find my feet pacing toward home. And my home has been and will always be Samar—especially on Christmas.
When I was in the grades I would always be part of the “kombatsero” (this is how it is called in Dolores--a derivative, of course, of combanchero) which is a band of boys caroling around town with the use of indigenous instruments. For the xylophone we used eight bottles of softdrinks carefully filled with colored water so that each bottle would carry an assigned tune. Our drums we made out of dried and stretched pig entrails. We have the “kaskas” made out of bamboo chopped in half and carefully laid on a decorated stand designed to lead a tempo by a rhythmic strumming corrugated surface. And then the “marakas” which is made out of small coconut shells with pellets inside and colorful ruffles at the wooden handle. We would dance to the Christmas tune we were rendering, complete with tussled hats and strips of crepe paper decorating our bodies. We didn’t bother about how we make out of the music. What was important was that our instruments emit some loud rhythmic sounds (that my father considers very noisy) to accompany our dances and drown our chorus. The harmonica or the ukelele were the instruments assigned to me. Boy, I was very proud. I would not even care about the usual Sixty Pesos or so as my personal share during the whole season. Christmas would never ever be happiest.
Evening caroling in Dolores begins shortly after the Aguinaldo Masses commences. But the peak of evening carols happens on the 24th where you would not see anybody else on the streets but carolers on foot with lamps or candles on one hand and a copy of the “panarit” on the other. The more famous panarit are either the “Iine Dinhe in Balay” or the “De Gracias Amigo”. Both are based on the biblical narrative of how Joseph and Mary got always refused lodging in Jerusalem and finally ending up in a lowly shepherd’s tent. The panarit was composed in a way that role-plays Joseph begging lodging and the “tagbalay” responding in a song his refusal to admit the couple because his house was already brimming with relatives who came to Jerusalem for the census. This traditional evening carol carries nostalgic tunes of old. There are also other versions of the panarit that are rarely heard today, mostly sung by old people from the barrios. But lately, carolers have been adapting tunes from contemporary songs. From the 25th until the epiphany, the caroling is done during the day, surprisingly using Christmas carols in English such as Silent Night, Jingle Bells and so on. These are also the days for the kombatsero.
But times are changing. Commercialization has also infected even this treasured cultural practice, like it did other facets of human activity today. True-to-form carolers are getting rare these days. Most of what you see in the streets are people riding on the opportunity to beg for instant cash. While before children carolers would gladly accept native rice cakes for a Christmas song or two, now everybody prefers coins. Even organizations make use of Christmas to solicit funds for sundry purposes. Christians should realize that the panarit is actually a religious activity. In fact, it is like the pasyon during Holy Week sung in a festive manner. But I still love listening to carolers who always end their piece with a final thanksgiving song that carries their following lyrics: “Salamat nga waray sugad. Hadto iyo iginhahatag. Tagan kamo hin kalipay, gracias waray katapusan”.