The Tribune editorial takes a break from the usual to give space to the following contribution of one of the organizers of the island’s longest-running Christmas extravaganza:
“A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS CHEERS
Ponching & Noning Garcia
Christmas Cheers was the brainchild of Msgr. Jose B. Molina, Msgr. Ping to his parishioners. It was born out of the compassion of this great man, this dedicated priest, for his people.
On October 20, 1985, Typhoon “Saling” with center winds of 165-185 kilometers per hour hit Catanduanes and Virac was devastated. Many houses and crops were destroyed, along with government infrastructures and public utilities such as water and electricity supply. Families who lost their houses were billeted in school rooms as their temporary shelters. There was a general feeling of despondency and hopelessness. Undoubtedly people felt that the coming Christmas would be a gloomy one. This feeling of sadness did not escape the eyes of Msgr. Ping. His heart bled for them. And he decided to do something to relieve their misery.
Msgr. Ping asked the leaders of the Marriage Encounter Movement to organize and present nightly shows at the Virac parish patio and he said it shall be called “Christmas Cheers” since its purpose is to bring cheers to the community during this season. Msgr. Ping did not only think of bringing smiles on the faces of the people.
He also thought of putting some food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs. He did this by asking the people to donate foodstuff and clothing during the “Misa de Gallo” to help the needy members of the community. The people responded generously. These donations were repacked and distributed to the indigent members of the community during the nightly shows.
And so, the first Christmas Cheers show was held on December 16,1985 at the Virac parish patio, with the presentations held nightly until December 30, with rest days on December 24 and 25.
On their own, the Marriage Encounterers put up the stage. The nightly shows were presented by Marriage Encounter classes (there were by that time 34 ME classes throughout the Diocese, 20 of which were in Virac) and some schools in Virac, Later, even schools outside Virac participated Snacks for the show participants were also provided by ME classes.
Every presentation night, people flocked to the Virac parish patio and the area was always filled to the brim. It was heart-warming to see the smiles on the faces of both the children and the adults. The Christmas Cheers really brought cheers to the community.
The first Christmas Cheers was a resounding success. Its purpose was realized. Msgr. Ping and the Marriage Encounterers were elated and encouraged. They decided to make this a yearly affair.
From 1985 to 1989, the Cheers was held at the patio of Virac parish church. In 1990, it was decided to transfer the entertainment festival to a larger venue – the adjacent town plaza – because the crowd could no longer be accommodated in the patio. It has stayed in the town plaza since then until today.
The best compliment that we have heard about the success of Christmas Cheers comes from our students and young professionals staying in Manila when they say that they would rather spend the Christmas season in Manila than in Virac if we don’t have Christmas Cheers in the capital town.
We, the original organizers of the Christmas Cheers, have only one wish and hope: that whatever change, in form or structure, will happen to the Christmas Cheers will keep alive the memory of Msgr. Ping Molina, the person who brought this all about.”
It is also a testament to the determination and commitment of the organizers of the Christmas Cheers that the tradition has survived to this day the ravages of super typhoons and the pandemic.
From the early days when the stage, the shows, props and snacks came from the pockets of anyone willing to chip in for a worthy cause, the Cheers has become a 19-night entertainment festival that now costs several hundred thousand pesos to mount.
Thanks to the support of the Virac municipal government and its leaders, who have come to realize not only its economic but social benefits, the Cheers will be here to stay, to perpetuate the memory of Msgr. Ping whose dogged perseverance to give a lift to those who have less in life gave birth to the Cheers.
Some of those who labored through the past 37 years (except for the four times it was not held due to typhoons and the pandemic) are gone now but their effort is being continued by a younger generation who, like Msgr. Ping, see the Cheers as a gift to God’s people.