Jose Mari Chan said he and his Gen Z grandchildren swap memes that poke fun at his stature as the herald of Christmas in the Philippines. Like the songs from his 1990 holiday album, his photo on the memes, the one with the big smile, doesn't seem to age, the grandkids said.
Such is the enduring appeal of Chan's "Christmas in Our Hearts", which has crossed over from casette to CD to streaming. Chan and his Christmas brand now thrive in meme culture, where in the second year of confusing GCQ and ECQ, there's always PASQ to look forward to.
"One of my grandchildren was joking, sabi n'ya, 'lolo, because of these memes using the same picture, parang you don't age'," Chan told reportr.
If "Christmas in Our Hearts" were a human being, it would be a millennial, turning 31 and looking at ways to invest in stocks and bonds via mobile app. For millions of Filipinos, the song is a timeless source of holiday cheer.
"I have mixed feelings of being complimented that my song has become like an anthem for Christmas. I feel very proud at the same time I am conscious it might take away from the message of Christmas. I don't want the memes to take away the meaning and the symbol and the significance of the real Christmas season that is the Lord Jesus Christ," he told reportr.
Chan laughed when asked about being likened to a defrosted Captain America come September, adding that there's one meme he'd like to reply to.
"Nakakatawa lang 'yung 'Bawal lumabas ang senior.' I want sana for that meme to reply na 'Oh Mr. Officer, nabakunahan na po ako... how about you, have you been vaccinated?"
In the Chan household the balladeer doesn't play his own classics, defaulting instead to Christmas albums by Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.
Why Jose Mari Chan = 'Ber' months
"Christmas in Our Hearts" retained its magic even during the first pandemic year 2020. For those who have heard it since its release in 1990, it brings back memories of happy celebrations at home while serving as the soundtrack to the year's holiday shopping.
"Bata pa lang tayo naririnig na natin ang awitin n'ya... naging cultural artifact na sa Pilipinas ang awitin ni Jose Mari Chan," said UP Los Baños professor and sociologist Prince Aldama.
Even Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You" is no match for Chan, whose song, a duet with his daughter Liza, captured how Filipinos see Christmas -- a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ with family.
Chan has become a part of the larger Filipino Christmas tradition, Aldama said. Living in a predominantly Catholic country in the time of COVID-19, the "Christmas in Our Hearts" memes provide a feel-good escape.
"May collective anticipation na paparating na ang holidays. May sense of excitement, happiness, hope na there's something that will change, at nagsisimula 'yun sa 'ber' months."
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Perfect for the world's longest Christmas
The memes serve as a countdown for Filipinos to start planning Christmas activities as early as September. It's the world's longest yuletide celebration.
With nearly four months to prepare for Dec. 25, Filipinos deal better with the stress and anxiety of planning big family gatherings and completing their gift lists, said sociologist Bro. Clifford Sorita.
Come Sept. 16, Filipinos will be counting down 100 days to Christmas.
"Time flies when you’re having fun thus the anticipation of that Christmas cheer just makes the remaining days of the year bearable," Sorita said in a post.
"With many Filipinos living outside the country as OFWs or as immigrants, as well as those working in other cities (or provinces), the long Christmas season is an eagerness of families sharing time together. Filipinos consider 'being home for Christmas' intently," he said.
December also means Christmas bonuses, one that deserves another modern-day carol from rock band Aegis.
It's the second COVID Christmas
While Malacañang has said that Christmas 2021 would be "better" with more vaccinations against COVID-19 pandemic, "hindi puwedeng ipilit na everything will be fine," Aldama said.
"Iba-iba ang realidad ng mga Pilipino. May makaka-celebrate pa rin kasi nakakaluwag sila sa buhay, meron din na siguro mag-cut ng budget, o wala talaga," he said.
There were 3.76 million unemployed Filipinos in June 2021, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
"We have to recognize the pain, hindi lang ito puro joy, even Jesus Christ was born in a period na grabe ang political turmoil and uncertainty, hindi ba?"
Chan reminded Filipinos that Christmas is a gift that even the pandemic cannot crush. Even without the usual fanfare, Filipinos can celebrate the Yuletide season with family bonding time and carols at home.
"Before you say goodbye, you should always pray together. The family that prays together, stays together," he said.
For Aldama, it's the season for Filipinos to recharge before facing another year full of uncertainties.
"It's a season for us to be positive, hopeful, and see the good in every situation. Kailangan din natin makita 'yung mga condition ng buhay natin na we have to address hindi lang during Christmas that we can also be hopeful, kahit sa ibang buwan ng taon," Aldama said.