Looking Back

Rizal at Christmas

/ 05:24 AM December 26, 2018

Over Christmas carols, smoked  tangingue  and Schublig at the Manila Peninsula lobby last week, I wondered what Christmas was like for Rizal in Dapitan. He may have been in exile, destierro in Spanish, but he was not totally cut off from his family, who corresponded in writing via snail mail.

Rizal’s letters were read by his jailers to check for subversive content before they were posted, so in some of the letters he would write in multiple languages, knowing that the officials could only read in Spanish or Tagalog. So in one amusing letter he wrote a paragraph or two in Spanish, then shifted to German, French, English and even Italian to confound the poor reader who probably needed to ask Rizal himself for a translation.


His last happy Christmas was in Dapitan in 1895, when he was waiting for the reply to his application to leave his place of exile to serve as a Spanish doctor in Cuba. His last Christmas in 1896 was far from merry, since he was being tried by a military court for treason and the penalty was death. But in early December 1895, he wrote to his mother asking her to buy him a bicycle in case his trip to Cuba was denied:

“If you hear nothing about my departure, I should like you to buy me a second-hand bicycle, neither very bad nor very good and which would not cost more than 100 pesos. Pepe Leyba could do me the favor of buying one to use in my trips to the town; neither very good nor very bad. In the next mail, I’ll send you the money together with another 100 pesos for Father and you.


“You’ll receive from Capiz 50 pesos and another 10 pesos from Zamboanga, being fees paid by several patients of mine. I have money here but I have no means of sending it to you.”

Aside from the Christmas money he sent to his parents, Rizal remitted money for other bills and obligations, and even asked them to advance funds. Online banking and Pera Padala would have made things easier for the hero in exile. Grab Delivery or LBC would have facilitated the sending of the ham, wine, butter and other Christmas goodies his family sent from Manila to Zamboanga del Norte. Rizal sent through regular steamer a box containing the following:

“One American balance [a gift for] Paciano; one sack of cacao for you there; two bottles of lard, one for you and the other for Sra. Sisa (without fail); two bottles of pickles for you (one for Sra. Sisa, without fail); One roll of sinamay for Trining.”

Rizal repeated that a bottle of lard and pickles should reach his sister Narcisa, and the rest could be given away as the family pleased. Then he wrote: “The material for pantaloons which you sent me sold very well at one peseta a yard; so that if you can send other textile like that or better ones, with their prices, we can do a little business here. I’m not sending you honey now because the demijohn is not yet full.

“If you would like to buy a lot, tell me the size you need and I’ll look for one. If I don’t leave this place, I’m thinking of buying a coconut plantation of more than 4,000 trees for 1,500 pesos, all about four or 3 years old. I hope my brother could give me money after the sale of sugar [harvest]. I believe it is good business. For the erysipelas of Mr. Hino, I would recommend three grams of boric acid in 100 grams of water for washing it. Through the next mail, as I have told you, I’ll send you a little money. I have many patients but many are gratis.”

On the same steamer, Rizal sent a delightful letter to his nephew Mauricio Cruz. Translated from the original Spanish, it reads: “To Moris in Manila. Study well because those who don’t know receive knocks on the head. I wish for you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” Then Rizal wanted to teach his nephew some English, and wrote out: “Felices Pascuas en Ingles Merry Christmass (sic). Feliz Año Nuevo. Happy New Year. Moris, you must be a good boy. Your uncle, J. Rizal.”

Of course, Rizal’s letters to his family may not be as important as the “Noli,” “Fili,” or “Ultimo Adios,” but they remind those who forget that our hero was not made of bronze and marble, but of flesh and blood—that it is in Rizal’s humanity that we recognize our own capacity for greatness.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Jose Rizal, Looking Back, Rizal in Dapitan
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