Way before Jose Mari Chan captured our hearts with the classic “Christmas in Our Hearts,” it was “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” that Filipinos first thought of whenever the Christmas season rolled around. After all, it was practically the go-to song that little kids would belt out during Christmas caroling, complete with their hand-made drums and tambourines made out of tansan.
But this earworm has such varying histories and composers that it has been a source of debate for decades. Here are two stories that may point to the true origin of the Christmas song:
A Cebuano Original
According to some sources, the upbeat Christmas song was actually a Cebuano original written by Vicente Rubi, with lyrics by Mariano Vestil, in Mambaling, Cebu. It was written for a play and was quite famous in the neighboring provinces of Bohol and Negros. Staged in what is now Lapu-Lapu City, the play had a Christmas caroling scene and the song they sang was “Kasadya Ning Takna-a,” which translates to “How Joyous is the Season.” The melody of this song is very similar to “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit” and was likely written and copyrighted in 1933. Another version says that the two men wrote this song for a Christmas carol competition in Cebu.
A Marching Song
Several years later, 17-year-old University of the Philippines student Josefino “Pepe” Cenizal was applying as a musical director for Parlatone-Hispano Filipino, a major production house. Because of his young age, the production house did not take him seriously until he brought an entire band along with him! They then hired him on the spot and asked him to write a marching song for the movie Pugad ng Agila (1938). Cenizal came up with the melody that would later become “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit” whose official title is actually “Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon (Ang Pasko ay Sumapit).” He said that it was his friend, National Artist for Music Levi Celerio, who wrote the lyrics for the song, and even offered to write for all his compositions, transforming songs that were originally background for movies into Christmas songs.
Celerio gained international fame for his ability to make music with a leaf. Unknown to some, he penned the lyrics to iconic Pinoy Christmas songs such as “Pasko Na Naman” and “Misa de Gallo.”
Also Read: Have a Merry Christ-mas!
Listen to Ang Pasko ay Sumapit and other traditional Pinoy Christmas carols below!