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Chapter 8: Merry Christmas!


When Juli opened her sorrowing eyes, she saw that the house was still dark, but the cocks were crowing. Her first thought was that perhaps the Virgin had performed the miracle and the sun was not going to rise, in spite of the invocations of the cocks. She rose, crossed herself, recited her morning prayers with great devotion, and with as little noise as possible went out on the batalan.
There was no miracle—the sun was rising and promised a magnificent morning, the breeze was delightfully cool, the stars were paling in the east, and the cocks were crowing as if to see who could crow best and loudest. That had been too much to ask—it were much easier to request the Virgin to send the two hundred and fifty pesos. What would it cost the Mother of the Lord to give them? But underneath the image she found only the letter of her father asking for the ransom of five hundred pesos. There was nothing to do but go, so, seeing that her grandfather was not stirring, she thought him asleep and began to prepare breakfast. Strange, she was calm, she even had a desire to laugh! What had she had last night to afflict her so? She was not going very far, she could come every second day to visit the house, her grandfather could see her, and as for Basilio, he had known for some time the bad turn her father’s affairs had taken, since he had often said to her, “When I’m a physician and we are married, your father won’t need his fields.”
“What a fool I was to cry so much,” she said to herself as she packed her tampipi. Her fingers struck against the locket and she pressed it to her lips, but immediately wiped them from fear of contagion, for that locket set with diamonds and emeralds had come from a leper. Ah, then, if she should catch that disease she could not get married.
As it became lighter, she could see her grandfather seated in a corner, following all her movements with his eyes, so she caught up her tampipi of clothes and approached him smilingly to kiss his hand. The old man blessed her silently, while she tried to appear merry. “When father comes back, tell him that I have at last gone to college—my mistress talks Spanish. It’s the cheapest college I could find.”
Seeing the old man’s eyes fill with tears, she placed the tampipi on her head and hastily went downstairs, her slippers slapping merrily on the wooden steps. But when she turned her head to look again at the house, the house wherein had faded her childhood dreams and her maiden illusions, when she saw it sad, lonely, deserted, with the windows half closed, vacant and dark like a dead man’s eyes, when she heard the low rustling of the bamboos, and saw them nodding in the fresh morning breeze as though bidding her farewell, then her vivacity disappeared; she stopped, her eyes filled with tears, and letting herself fall in a sitting posture on a log by the wayside she broke out into disconsolate tears.
Juli had been gone several hours and the sun was quite high overhead when Tandang Selo gazed from the window at the people in their festival garments going to the town to attend the high mass. Nearly all led by the hand or carried in their arms a little boy or girl decked out as if for a fiesta.
Christmas day in the Philippines is, according to the elders, a fiesta for the children, who are perhaps not of the same opinion and who, it may be supposed, have for it an instinctive dread. They are roused early, washed, dressed, and decked out with everything new, dear, and precious that they possess—high silk shoes, big hats, woolen or velvet suits, without overlooking four or five scapularies, which contain texts from St. John, and thus burdened they are carried to the high mass, where for almost an hour they are subjected to the heat and the human smells from so many crowding, perspiring people, and if they are not made to recite the rosary they must remain quiet, bored, or asleep. At each movement or antic that may soil their clothing they are pinched and scolded, so the fact is that they do not laugh or feel happy, while in their round eyes can be read a protest against so much embroidery and a longing for the old shirt of week-days.
Afterwards, they are dragged from house to house to kiss their relatives’ hands. There they have to dance, sing, and recite all the amusing things they know, whether in the humor or not, whether comfortable or not in their fine clothes, with the eternal pinchings and scoldings if they play any of their tricks. Their relatives give them cuartos which their parents seize upon and of which they hear nothing more. The only positive results they are accustomed to get from the fiesta are the marks of the aforesaid pinchings, the vexations, and at best an attack of indigestion from gorging themselves with candy and cake in the houses of kind relatives. But such is the custom, and Filipino children enter the world through these ordeals, which afterwards prove the least sad, the least hard, of their lives.
Adult persons who live independently also share in this fiesta, by visiting their parents and their parents’ relatives, crooking their knees, and wishing them a merry Christmas. Their Christmas gift consists of a sweetmeat, some fruit, a glass of water, or some insignificant present.
Tandang Selo saw all his friends pass and thought sadly that this year he had no Christmas gift for anybody, while his granddaughter had gone without hers, without wishing him a merry Christinas. Was it delicacy on Juli’s part or pure forgetfulness?
When he tried to greet the relatives who called on him, bringing their children, he found to his great surprise that he could not articulate a word. Vainly he tried, but no sound could he utter. He placed his hands on his throat, shook his head, but without effect. When he tried to laugh, his lips trembled convulsively and the only noise produced was a hoarse wheeze like the blowing of bellows.
The women gazed at him in consternation. “He’s dumb, he’s dumb!” they cried in astonishment, raising at once a literal pandemonium.

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