Before the year ends

He ran towards his cheering group mates, shaking dust and rubble off his pants. He lost his balance and got thrown on the ground so he was left behind. An older girl struggled to break through the crowd towards him, tapping his shoulder to get his attention.

“Paolo! Paolo! Did you win…” she asked the boy in Ilocano, cutting her question short and acting out the rest of it--wrapping her fingers around an imaginary rope and tugging hard towards her thin frame.

Paolo understood what she meant and nodded in affirmation. Their group won the Tug-of-war in the young boys’ division.

“We also did!” The girl exclaimed, and then she turned around and pranced towards another child, dodging several mothers and grandmothers along the way.

All around the young boy she called Paolo, several children of his age group jumped and cheered, laughed and shouted while watching the standoff in the adolescent boys’ division in the Tug-of-war.

It was a match. Both groups would not budge. There was an occasional advantage for one group, making the cheers and howls louder. Eventually, however, one wrong move gave the team at the left end of the rope the win.

The crowd broke into applause as the five-member team lined to have their names recorded under “winners.” For the past 17 years, the residents of Almeida and P. Burgos St. in San Fernando City, La Union in Northern Luzon enjoyed this end-of-the-year treat with parlor games and gift-giving from the city treasurer and his family.

Wilfredo OrdoƱo, whom the residents fondly called Tres—short for treasurer—had been in charge of San Fernando City’s purse since 1987. He slowly got promoted from being simply a government employee who sidelined as a tricycle driver to meet his family’s daily needs. Tres who is a graduate of commerce became the officer-in-charge treasurer in the town of Burgos before being assigned his position in San Fernando, then still a town.

“When I became treasurer, I thought of giving parlor games to the children of Almeida and P. Burgos,” Tres said in an interview. After five years, his plan became a reality. Since then, the family had been organizing the program, his son and two daughters contributing to buy prizes and gifts for the event.

“We give back a part of the blessings we receive. We know how difficult life is. We’ve been through that, and we want to help with this event,” said Lily, Tres’s spouse of 40 years.

Manang Lily, together with her grandchildren and daughters, began the preparations for the games and gifts on the 29th of Dec., a day before the year-end treat. Like before, she ordered canned goods, instant noodles and pancit canton, powdered juice drinks and candies to be given away to winners and the residents of Almeida and P. Burgos.

She also bought three cavans of rice from her brother’s stand in the market. They divided the rice to be given out to over 150 individuals during the event.

Back home, Manang Lily’s grandchildren, youngest daughter and a number of volunteers pasted holiday greeting cards on cellophanes and filled them with grocery items. They lined several boxes containing the groceries, and worked like a factory assembly line to speed up the job.

They placed four packs of instant noodles, two canned goods, a pack of powdered juice and one kilo of rice in every bag, before placing them in five rows with 20 bags each.

“This had been a family tradition. My nephew and niece were still little children when we started it. Now, they’re big enough to help,” Lily Ann, Tres’s youngest child, said.

Just beside the rows of giveaways, a number of men prepared materials for the Breaking the pot, pabitin, relay races and eating contests. Most of them are fathers whose children also join and enjoy the parlor games prepared every year.

“We will have the mothers and grandmothers next for Breaking the pot,” Tres’s voice blared, encouraging the women in the audience to join. Every year, since 1992, the parking lot for mini busses and jeepneys—once a grassland—transformed into a playground just for the occasion.

Colorful banderitas made from recycled straws, plastic cups and bottles hung around the street. The design is changed yearly, and for 2008, the plastic bottles were fashioned to look like lamps with shades of green, red, yellow and blue for Christmas and New Year.

“Don’t be shy. Will you let your children have all the fun?” Tres told the mothers, wrinkles lining his forehead and cheeks as he smiled.

At first, only three elderly women lined up for the game after much encouragement from their grandchildren and younger companions. One by one, the grandmothers were blindfolded, given a baseball bat and asked to break a palayok hanging from a rope. The crowd gave instructions to the blindfolded lolas. Some, however, confused the contestants as they tried to cover around 10 feet to reach the palayok.

“Left! Left! A little more!”
“No! Go to your right!”

The crowd shouted as the contestants struggled to reach their goal. Some of them were too far from the palayok when they swung the bat. Others missed it by a few inches.

A loud, “Awwwww!” echoed the audience’s disappointment, especially the children’s who eagerly awaited the cracking of the pot to collect the sweets and candies that would fall from it.

After a few minutes, Tres jokingly announced the arrival of a doctor who flew home from London just to join the game—his way of encouraging the mothers to give the game a try. Tres broadcasted her name over the mic—Dr. Gloria.

The crowd cheered Dr. Gloria who gave in to the pressure. She asked her companion to look after the child she was with. The doctor was blindfolded and given the bat like the rest of the contestants. She walked towards the pot but was too far right when she tried hitting it.

The game was far from over.

While the games continued, Tres listed the names of the winners in every category and sent the list home where Manang Lily tabulated them. The winners each received an envelope with 50 pesos as their prize.

“It’s not really about the prize. It’s about the fun of the season,” Manang Lily said while writing the winners’ names on the envelopes.

Boxes containing the Christmas and New Year giveaways were carried by volunteer men from their house as the event neared its end. All in all, 163 bags of grocery items were prepared.

The boxes arrived just as the young girls were playing pabitin, the last of the parlor games. The bamboo frame went up and down as the girls jumped to reach the different items hanging from it. There were biscuits and crackers, shampoos and soaps, and special gifts in wrappers printed with Christmas decorations.

“We thank you for another successful New Year program,” Tres said in deep Ilocano. “As we come to an end, we give you a simple gift and hope that the unity in Almeida and P. Burgos will continue. Let us see one another next year!”

Tres announced the residents’ names one by one and gave them a bag of groceries prepared by the family. Most of those present had been joining ever since the year-end treat began. A few first-timers, however, cannot help but smile as they receive their gifts and remember the games they have joined.
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  1. May utang pa ako sa'yo sa Geog 173! Wehehehehe!