Children’s Festival and My Dad’s Gifts

[Essay]
by Diandra Ditma A. Macarambon

“O makaphagariya ta,
Phagariya ta
Phagariya ta,
O makaphagariya ta,
Sayana a mapiya.”

When I was a kid, we used to sing that short song at the annual Children’s Festival held at the MSU Golf Course in December. The song says “how nice it would be if we all became friends, and brothers and sisters.” We would sing the song in Meranaw, in Binisaya, in Tagalog, and in English. It was to us, kids, a beloved song because it was fun and easy to follow and the words were easy to memorize. We would make our voices louder and louder. The singing of the song was our favorite part of the half-day festival. Second only to the gift-giving. They gave us packages that contained candy, biscuits, notebooks, pens, and even crayons if one was lucky. We all coveted the prize-gifts for the winners of the parlor games and the talent contests. Gifts of all sizes, carefully wrapped in green, yellow, and red paper. How I loved the little prizes I got!

This festival was something we looked forward to every year. It always came before every year ended. It was a festival where we played games, showcased our talents and had fun. We were kids and we didn’t know what the festival really meant and what the organizers’ objectives were. Every year, from the time I was barely 8 years old up to the time I became a young teenager who thought she was too old and too cool for such childish festivals, the kids in the neighborhood and I would go to this festival and come home with stomachs and hearts full.

In those festivals, the grown-ups would always talk about kalinaw and pagkahiusa, and respect and understanding. We, kids, never really listened to the speeches, no matter how short they were, because we were more excited about the games and the gifts. They also gave us home-made house decors that had the word, kalinaw, written on them. They were almost always blue because blue was the color of kalinaw and the sky, my friend explained to me one time. They told us to give those to our ates and kuyas or our parents.  We were happy to receive them, but when the games started, most of these decors would get left behind and be forgotten. In one or two of those festivals, I remember seeing Santa Claus. He danced and performed with us, played games with us and, finally, gave us our most-prized gifts. Those festivals were the highlight of those years of my life. Those years when all I cared about were games, food, toys, and little girl books.

I grew up in a place where this kind of festival is uncommon, especially during the Christmas season. Now that I understand what those festivals meant, I cannot help but applaud those who organized it. They made our childhood so much more fun and colorful. They made us feel the happiness that came from peace and unity, respect and understanding. They made sure that we, kids, didn’t feel the disinterest and sometimes even animosity that grown-ups had for one another. They made sure that we enjoyed our innocence. They made sure that we had good things to go back to when the time comes. They made sure we had good memories of the place where we grew up. And, most importantly, they made sure we understood that we were really all the same. In a place like ours, a Muslim-dominated area, it really isn’t easy to pull this off. But, these people did it anyway. For us, children.

There was a time I showed another little girl a picture of Santa Claus and me at one of those festivals.  She was shocked and started teasing me about it. She told me that Muslims didn’t have Santa Claus and were not supposed to have pictures taken with him. She also told me that Muslims were not supposed to receive gifts from Santa Claus. Besides, she explained, “Santa Claus doesn’t give gifts to Muslims.”

That was so confusing to my young mind. What was wrong with believing in Santa Claus? What was wrong with receiving gifts from him? He gave gifts to children who were good throughout the year, right? Weren’t Muslims good? Why would Santa Claus exclude us? What about Santa Claus during the last Children’s Festival I went to? He gave us gifts even if some of us were wearing kombong and some boys were wearing totob. And, how come my father would tell my brothers and me to hang socks by our window so Santa Claus could leave us presents? And, also, how come my father brought us Christmas gifts from Manila? She told me maybe my father was not a Muslim. I wanted to punch her when I heard that, but I didn’t. I didn’t because my father, who I believed, even at my young age, to be a good Muslim, told me that a real Muslim didn’t pick fights and didn’t hurt others. But, tears welled up in my eyes after such confrontation.

True enough, we don’t celebrate Christmas nor believe in Santa Claus. Of course, I know that now. But, to the kid that I was, that was very difficult to understand. It was hard enough to understand why my Christian classmates and friends had noche buena and we didn’t. All those red and orange balls, why didn’t we have them, too? I once saw a huge Christmas tree decorated with pretty violet flowers and big blue leaves and asked my mother to buy one for our home. She just laughed and told me to stop being too cute. I argued that violet was her favorite color so we should really get one. That made her laugh even more. We didn’t buy the tree.

Now that I understand why we, Muslims, don’t celebrate Christmas, somehow I have understood where that girl was coming from. Now that I know how important peace, unity, understanding, and respect are, especially in a place like ours, I cannot help but feel so much admiration for the organizers of the annual Children’s Festival I went to as a kid and for my father, who later explained to me that he gave us gifts and put money in our socks during Christmas season when my brothers and I were younger because he believed that we, as kids, should enjoy that and know the good feeling that came with receiving gifts. And, so that we would learn to be nice to others. He told me that it wasn’t because he wanted us to believe in Santa Claus and celebrate Christmas, it was because he wanted us to enjoy our childhood.

“A child doesn’t have to be tainted with this world’s cynicism and discord,” he told me.

Childhood comes but once in a lifetime, one should enjoy it. That was how he viewed things and that was when I understood what the Children’s Festival was for. That was what those organizers wanted kids to have and experience. A colorful childhood in which red, yellow, green, orange, violet, and blue, though distinct from one another, form one rainbow. A beautiful thing that connects two magical places in the sky.

 


 

Diandra Ditma A. MacarambonDiandra Ditma A. Macarambon is a Meranaw who hails from Lanao del Sur. She teaches at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, where she grew up. Her works have been published in some anthologies, newspapers, as well as online sites. She is an advocate of peace and equality in all its forms.