by Erickson Beco
Were you one of those amused with the sudden flood of photos and videos of the ageless Jose Mari Chan all over your Facebook and Twitter feeds lately?
Now that we have officially entered the -ber months, Inside World takes a closer look at this phenomenon and the humble beginnings of the man known as the “Filipino Santa Claus”—a notable icon who has lent himself to our past and symbolized the start of the Christmas season for today’s generation of Filipinos.
You see, very few people have the gift and uncanny ability to blurt out a line and turn it into a “national treasure,” so to speak.
Who can forget Nora Aunor’s “My brother is not a pig!” classic in 1976, or Cherie Gil throwing a fit with her spiel, “You’re nothing but a second rate, trying-hard, copycat!” back in 1985.
Fast-forward to more recent times and you’ll get the likes of John Lloyd Cruz’s “She loved me at my worst. You had me at my best. At binalewala mo lang lahat ‘yun,” from One More Chance in 2007, and Carmi Martin’s signature line, “Ang mundo ay isang malaking Quiapo. Maraming snatcher, maaagawan ka. Lumaban ka!” from the 2011 Star Cinema hit, No Other Woman.
This list can go on and on, no doubt about it. But as we usher in the start of Christmas season in the Philippines this week—the longest Yuletide celebration the world has ever seen—the only name that truly rings a bell is none other than Jose Mari Chan’s, the man who popularized the lines: “Whenever I see girls and boys selling lanterns on the streets, I remember the child in the manger as he sleeps.”
An underrated star
Ilonggo-born Jose Mari Chan first introduced his brand of music to Filipinos as the host and singer of the 1965 ABS-CBN television show, “Nineteeners.”
He continued his singing career for nine more years after that, highlighted by a stint as the Philippine representative to the World Popular Song Festival in Japan in 1973 where his song, “Can We Just Stop and Talk Awhile,” was one of the finalists. A year later, he was named as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines for the Arts.
His budding career as a musician was briefly cut short in 1975 when he had to leave for the United States to take over his family’s sugar business. Eleven years after, in 1986, he returned to the Philippines to continue his singing career, and from there everything was history.
“After I got married, I promised my mother-in-law that I would refrain from doing show business,” he told CNN Philippines in an interview. “But you know, once you have the music in your blood—in your heart—it wants to get out.”
And it did get out in the most auspicious way.
Chan produced singles and albums one after another after his comeback, none bigger than the release of the song “Christmas in Our Hearts” in 1990—a milestone that achieved double-diamond status and would be known decades later as one of the most iconic Filipino Christmas songs ever.
Dominating the airwaves during the holidays
From that day, Jose Mari Chan’s name would go on to become synonymous with the idea of Christmas here in the country.
Having been a huge part of our childhood, his huge impact on the Filipino Christmas culture earned him the title as the “Father of Philippine Christmas Music.” In fact in 2009, he was inducted into the Eastwood City Walk of Fame due to this remarkable legacy.
Such is the reason why, at this time of the year, you can never walk into the mall, shop at the supermarket, watch a movie at the cinemas, or even dine in your favorite restaurant without hearing (or even singing along to) the chorus of his song, “Let’s sing Merry Christmas and a happy holiday! This season may we never forget the love we have for Jesus.”
“Whenever I hear my songs on the radio, I try not to listen to the songs too long because I don’t want the old songs to influence me in writing my new songs,” he shared in an interview with Alex Almario in 2016. “But I will never get tired of hearing my Christmas songs in the mall because it reminds me that the goodwill that I have given through my song continues to live on.”
Chan’s success story is proof that all you need to do to leave a lasting legacy is to give your all in everything you do and fulfill your job excellently with all your heart.
Certainly, by the time this story gets published, we’ll all be singing our hearts out together with his songs—a sign that, even if we have yet to see people giving gifts and exchanging cards, we continue to believe that Christmas is truly in our hearts this early.
*Photo from Esquire Philippines and CNN Philippines