nativityIn elementary, I was a member of a children’s choir that performed only during Christmas. We were different from other choral groups in that we didn’t sing the usual Christmas carols. Instead, we performed a number that was almost 30 minutes long, complete with choreography that required a lot of stomping of the feet and prancing around.

The song was like a gozos, only that the stanzas were recited instead of sung. It was a narrative of the first Christmas, and we played the role of shepherds telling each other hey, come on, let’s follow that star and visit this child in a manger. What about the sheep? To hell with the sheep!

“Vamos, vamos, vamos mga pastores / Vamos, vamos, adto ta sa Belen,” went the chorus. “Vamos” is Spanish for “let’s go!”

We were a special caroling group, the most talented kids in school. Our performances were booked weeks before schedule. Wherever we performed, a crowd gathered. Other caroling groups knew better than to cross our path. With our strange Christmas carol, we were a hit in a town that had grown tired of “Silent Night” and “Kasadya.”

The chant-song traced its origins to the Spanish era. One of our teachers learned it from a neighbor whose brother’s friend had a sister whose husband’s grandfather had an uncle who was a great grandchild of an abusive friar who decided to pay for his sins by learning Cebuano and writing Cebuano gozos. Or something like that.

But it wasn’t easy. We had to practice a lot. And we did a lot of memorizing. Ah, the price we paid for stardom!

I don’t know where our choirmaster got the idea that

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shepherds talk really fast. We chanted each stanza like some possessed goat was chasing us. Try completing this is three seconds: “Ang bitoon sa sidlakan nagatawag kanatong tanan ngadto sa pasungan diin ang batang gamhanan gialirongan ug giyukboan.” Excuse us, Eminem, but we invented bullet-speed rapping.

We later had the hysterical chanting to thank for, because if we had slowed down just a bit, it would take us an hour to finish the whole presentation! Good thing the melodic chorus countered the frantic incantation and allowed us precious time to breathe and regain strength for the next round of exhausting verses. One performance done. Fifty more to go.

As shepherds, we were dressed in black jeans with one leg rolled up to the knee, and plain white shirt. A strip of red cloth was draped over our right shoulder and across the chest. Completing our costume was a buri hat from which little colored balls hang annoyingly. We looked more like Katipuneros joining the Miss Gay Universe pageant than shepherds lured by the Star of Bethlehem.

“Ka-gwapoooo ninyo uy! Sige pa, dance for Jesus!” our stage mothers would shout whenever we showed signs of irritation with the jingle balls. Inspired by this lavish praise, we performed with even more zeal, romping about as fast as our little feet could allow themselves to keep up with our chanting. We looked like headless chickens, somebody commented, quite honestly.

Back in school after the Christmas break, my classmates received free notebooks, pencils, paper and other school supplies. They were the ones who didn’t make it to the singing group.

Inside the greeting cards were written, “Belated Merry Christmas, our dear classmates – From the Pastores.”

(, december 23, 2008 )