In this season of giving, that question, perhaps, is the one that demands a a most well-thought of answer. After all, the chunk of the well-earned Christmas bonus will most likely be appropriated to buying happiness for dear ones. For the wife, an imported vanity case containing all those important feminine paraphernalia—perfume, powder, lipstick—will be greatly appreciated. But then again, she might opt for a new living room set! For parents, a large, state-of-the-art flat TV is perfect, although medicine supplements make another ideal alternative . For a grown-up son or daughter, maybe a ticket to a Bruno Mars concert or some fashionable gifts: rubber shoes, handbags, a new watch.
There is no guesswork, however, when it comes to choosing presents for children. Then, as now, the choice of a gift narrows down to just one---toys! A Kapampangan child and his toys are as inseparable as pen and paper, and, growing up in the 20s through the 50s, a wide assortment of toys were available to him, at prices parents could very well afford.
Surveying Japanese bazaars and department stores in 1929, one would most likely find cheap, but attractive Philippine-made toys that were crafted “to make children understand our own Philippines better”, as one local businessman argued. The most popular were papier maché doll figures for both boys and girls. Many depict rural scenes, such as a charming dalagang bukid in a native costume astride a carabao, a squatting man roasting a lechon, and a country boy riding a horse, bearing baskets of fruits. For those with more money to spare, foreign-made toys could also be found in leading Manila stores—from motorized tin cars, airplanes and trucks, dolls made in the likeness of Hollywood stars to crying and talking doll figures that could also close and open their eyes.
In old Guagua, however, boys and girls received Christmas toys not from fancy shops but handcrafted for the occasion by loving fathers, uncles and brothers. This folk art was still thriving in the early 1950s. A 1953 magazine account describes the toys thus: “These are the animal pull toys that were fashioned from bamboo and wire. The skeleton frame was then covered with thin, white “papel de japon”. They were mounted on 4-wheeled wooden platforms, and were so constructed that at every turn of the wheels, parts of their bodies moved and simulated an action peculiar to the animal they represented”.
The animals chosen were often culled from the figures present at the birth of Jesus—lambs, cows, doves—as well as domesticated ones like dogs, cats, carabaos. Ingeniously made, the chickens flapped their wings, the cats played with their balls of thread, and dogs crouched and leaped as they were pulled on the town streets.
At night, these toys were lighted inside with candles, giving them a warm glow as they were pulled by troops of children, joined by their Mass-going parents, towards the church. “It seemed”, waxed one Guagua resident recalling the scene, “as if all mankind and all the creatures of the earth were going again to the manger to worship at the feet of the Prince of Peace”.
Time and again, it is said that “Christmas is for children”. For it is them that are dearest in the thoughts of parents, who, although kindhearted every time of the year, are doubly generous during this season. Once again, in many homes, toys—whether it be an expensive robot with a laser sword or a homemade rag doll---will shine in good proportion to the simple pleasures of little children.