Last December 13, Xavier School Nuvali (XSN) celebrated the first of what promises to be a spectacular annual tradition — the Carol Fest. It was a night of pointed celebration: the third quarter, after torrents of typhoons here and there, was drawing to a close; the year was ending, and Christmas was on the horizon.
It was “spectacular” indeed because it was, actually, a considerably big event.
What follows are some personal recollections from the preparations leading to the actual event, and in the actual event itself.
There wasn’t supposed to be an event as big as this.
Let me say that again.
There wasn’t supposed to be an event as big as this.
It was supposed to be a November and December version of the IgNIGHTS, a casual night of singing and a presentation of eclectic talents the school employs. For the love of all that is holy, it was supposed to look like this:
So much for that.
What was once a modest humdrum filling some small corners started becoming more and more noticeable—calls for this thing called “Carol Fest” started filling the workroom, and the tranquil, picturesque Mt. Makiling only served as a powerful backdrop to the increasingly tense and busy preparations for this “Carol Fest.”
Committees started to assemble out of thin air. We will be “bringing in” performers. We will have “professional lights and sounds.” There was talk of “sponsorships.”
“I thought this was a casual event?” I valiantly asked.
I got a reply. Nonplussed. And tired. “Yeah.” And that was it!
Increasingly—repeatedly—we teachers (who are doubling as organizers, too) needed to remind each other of something becoming painfully obvious. This is going to be a big event. This is going to be a big event.
This is going to be a big event.
Future plans, like the creation of a Production Crew and a Media Team, pushed themselves neatly and stubbornly into the present out of necessity. In Xavier Nuvali, there goes an inside joke, we teachers all wear a number of different hats.
Suddenly, I found myself involved with the Production Crew, staying beyond the sacred 4:00pm dismissal time to be with volunteer students as they plan a design for a huge Christmas tree—eventually cutting discarded soda bottles and then some, along a makeshift assembly line.
Oh, and there was something else altogether.
O, ikaw na mag-host ah. (“Alright. You’ll host this, OK?”)
I reply, deadpanned. OK.
Naïve Me. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
Preparations were at a high, now—at times, everything in school seemed to converge for this Carol Fest.
Butts of soda bottles were piled up neatly in one corner; students with bulky, hand-held digital SLRs roamed around taking pictures of the Oratory, the scenery, and everything in between; Xaverian social media feeds get spattered with invitations to the event; logistical questions were in the air.
Somewhere in the midst of all the ruckus, I got ahold of the script for the night.
Oo nga pala, host ako. (“Oh yeah, right—I’d be hosting this event.”)
Together with my partner, the fabulous Grade 2 adviser Mrs. Maan Domingo, we started planning how we’d host the event—or, really, how we’d project the sentences off the script. We started running down the names: Chris Yu, Peter Caimbon, ERDA Choir, XS San Juan Grade School Choir, . . .
Faceless names. And to be honest, something I’d want to go through rather quickly.
Panic is starting to set in.
It was a rainy Friday, the day before, so Saturday afternoon doesn’t promise to be very good.
We had back-up plans, of course, but what of the oratory’s unconventional yet beautiful façade? What of the backdrop, God’s creation all painting a picturesque scene of nature—mountain, cloud, sky, wind, grass, ground?
Saturday afternoon was sunny. We were finalizing preparations as this happened.
Then the rain came pouring down, like “cats and dogs,” like infinite acupuncture needles, with nary a mercy in our humble event in the greater scheme of things.
Shock happened. Then panic. And fear. And a collection of negative emotions adjectives can barely describe. We all turned towards prayer and a sane dose of denial.
Nag-uubos lang ng tubig yan! (“The heavens are just getting all its water out so that we’ll have a dry event later!”)
It was raining, and raining hard.
It was awful.
But we were stubbornly focused on our work, on making sure every detail would be flawlessly delivered when the event happens. A technical rehearsal was swept away by the downpour, and we didn’t care.
We’re doing this outside the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier.
Five o’clock. The Oratory, with its regular Saturday Mass, proceeds with activities as scheduled. The rain starts to dwindle and cooperate. (Is this real or just a “calm before the storm,” readying for a stronger torrent later on?)
The Oratory brims with people. I honestly haven’t seen the Oratory so packed that there needed to be several rows of chairs outside to accommodate churchgoers.
That doesn’t happen.
Then I turned selfish—I was afraid.
There’s . . . a lot of people? I’m hosting . . . to a lot of people? I’m going to be in front of . . . a lot of people? This number of people? That’s insane…!?
Like a blur, a blink of an eye, a snap of the fingers, a bite off a KitKat bar, a breath of fresh air, a glance towards the distance. . .
. . .the people fill the grass with mats and with themselves.
Concessionaires were selling what seemed to me to be delectable cookies and in-demand hotdogs. Form the view of the faculty pantry, the beauty of the grand stage is visible; the wondrous scenery of this place I call “workplace” and my students call “school”—it’s something to behold. Really.
And then: final touches. A trip to the bathroom more for nerves than the bladder. Another look at my face. Obsessing over hair wax and the cleanliness of my long-sleeved collared shirt. The orderliness of my cue cards, of which I obsessed over three and four and five times before.
We were already called up the stage, a half-hour before the scheduled time.
Why did I take this job again?
Suddenly and without warning, a voice-over introduces Mrs. Domingo and me to the stage. My legs wanted to go back and sit somewhere and prepare myself, but my brain commanded both of them to go with Mrs. Domingo, fake a smile, and give it a go.
I have nothing more to do.
And then I went up. On the stage, where I was talking to . . . lights. The lights which blinded me, and which enabled me to overcome my fears. It was simple: Since I can’t see anything, what is there to do, then, but throw everything I have on the cue cards toward invisible people?
Good evening, Mrs. Domingo!
—Good evening, Mr. San Juan!
Good evening and Merry Christmas, Xavier School!
Carol Fest 2014 is up and running.
I sound like any other celebrity soundbite, but the whole event now seemed like a blur for me. I followed the script to the tee as much as I could, improvising on major parts whenever we needed to make changes in scheduling due to time constraints. I remember the performances, but only from the point of view of a host with dead legs running on adrenaline.
We called up Christopher Yu on stage to kick off the festivities. He’s the son of Ms. Zsa Zsa Yu, Project Coordinator for Xavier School Nuvali. Coming in, I heard great things about him, having starred in big-time projects on stage and in musicals, for instance Phantom of the Opera.
He most certainly didn’t disappoint, coming in full garb and make-up as he owned the stage to the tune of Lion King’s über-famous Circle of Life and having everyone fixate their eyes and their attention to him.
ERDA Tech Glee Club, who went up next, was almost the polar opposite of his performance. They seemed meek and formal; if I didn’t know any better, I’d say they were neophytes “fish in a pond” thrown suddenly into the vast and endless sea.
But no they weren’t, as they sizzled in their performance, going a cappella through their whole set. Which was bonkers and a half. A cappella for a whole set?!
Simply brilliant and magnificently effusive. They were true inspirations.
The Xavier School San Juan Choir went up the stage as well and serenaded the audience. I was surprised at how young the choir members were, seeing as if I wasn’t able to take note that they were grade-schoolers before the events. It just goes to show that even students as young as those in grade school can perform as well as they did.
Peter Caimbon came up next. He is now a recording artist, but was once roaming around the halls of Xavier School San Juan being a kid like all the others, under some teachers who now have moved on to Nuvali and have hosted an event he is a part of. He serenaded the audience with his simple get-up and guitar, one of which was a famous Ed Sheeran number.
XSN’s Parent’s Auxiliary, however, went up the stage and similarly killed it. Led by a professional conductor, they sang a number of songs very well. I was honestly surprised that the parents even had the time to practice and perform to that standard. It was breathtaking.
XSN’s instrumentalists, the SymphoniXS, came up after them, dazzling the audience with select numbers. They even played an arrangement by one of their members, as he conducted the piece like a consummate professional!
Then came the highest point of the night for most members of the audience: the song number of the Kinder students. They were too cute and adorable for me to even try describing them. They were amazing. If it wasn’t too taxing on children, I would’ve wanted them to take the stage for an extended period of time, dancing to popular Christmas tunes and warming our hearts the whole evening.
But alas, they were children, tired after a show-stopping number as they were ushered by their parents as they descended the stage.
The night was about to end, and we called Chris Yu up anew for a heartfelt rendition of The First Noel.
Lastly, however, would be XSN’s own homegrown vocal talent, the Glee Club, New VoiXS.
They bookended the night with three songs practiced to the best of their abilities, the students’ nerves indecipherable through the musical bliss they brought everyone that night.
As the night ended, the people going back to their homes tired, happy, contented, I mingled with the students and some of the organizers to exchange well-wishes. As I was talking to some of the students, one of them came up to me and said,
Sir, alam mo ang kulang nito? Fireworks. (“Sir, do you know what would make this event much more fantastic? Fireworks.”)
The first-ever Carol Fest does deserve one big bang—it was, pardon the expression, one hell of a celebration, and it deserves much more than fireworks, if I may add.
It was a magnificent event of wondrous proportions.
Really, I have nothing but praise and good things to say for everyone who performed that night and for everyone who were part of the event.
But my point of emphasis, this time, would be the scattering of important officials and administrators all throughout the event:
Fr. Ari Dy, S.J., Father President of Xavier School, for sharing the origins of the Carol Fest;
Mr. Marc Magsalin, head of Fr. Pierre Tritz Institute–ERDA Tech, where all the proceeds of the program would go;
Mrs. Arlene Choo, XSN principal, thanking our very generous sponsors at the end and introducing the Kinder students to the stage; and
Fr. Munching de Guzman, S.J., who gave a final blessing to everyone before the final numbers.
As he read a Biblical passage, surrounded by candle-light, and blessed the congregation, we are yet again invited to reflect on the occasion the Carol Fest revolves around.
ERDA Tech’s feeding program, yes, but more than that,
I have asked myself more than a few times this year what, really, is Christmas for.
It may be a matter of fireworks and a big celebration—a sign of opulence even with the way the event was set up and organized—but we are reminded by Gospel readings, at the very least, that humanity’s savior was born in a manger. He was born poor.
Yet we do everything for His glory.
Let the singing and the praise continue! As we say in the Ignatian tradition, ad majorem Dei gloriam! (“To God be the glory!”)
Maligayang Pasko, Xavier School!