As soon as the ber-months roll around, “Christmas In Our Hearts” by Jose Mari Chan starts playing on radio, signaling the start of Christmastime in the Philippines. It is arguably the most famous OPM Christmas song, and you probably know all the lyrics to it. But do you also know the story behind it? The composer himself gives My Pope a glimpse into what went on behind-the-scenes.
What inspired you to write “Christmas In our Hearts”?
The story began in 1988 when Assumption San Lorenzo High School Class ’63 was celebrating their Silver Jubilee. One of my close friends, Chari Cruz-Zarate, phoned me and asked if I could set a poem to music. Two years later, when I needed a carrier single for my Christmas album, I remembered the catchy melody I penned for Chari. That weekend, as I was coming out of Sunday Mass at the Santuario de San Antonio Church, a young lady ran up to me. She introduced herself as Rina Cañiza, an aspiring songwriter who wanted me to help her start a songwriting career. I feel that the Hand of God—the Holy Spirit—was at work from the very start. Inspiring Chari and me to come up with the original song, and then urging Rina to come up to me. I invited her to come over to the house the next day and we both worked on my melody. After a few back-and-forths and some rewrites, we completed the song “Christmas In Our Hearts.”
How did you pick your singing partner?
My original choice was Lea Salonga. However, at the last minute, her recording contract would not allow it. Monique Wilson promptly agreed to do it. That weekend, though, Monique went to Tagaytay and upon returning to Manila the day before our scheduled recording session, she lost her voice. God and the Holy Spirit must have really wanted this to be a father-daughter-tandem because I asked Liza, my eldest child—who performed in musicals in school—to quickly learn the song and record it with me the next day. And the rest is history.
What does the spirit of Christmas mean to you?
Christmas is the second most important part of our Christian Faith [the first is Easter]. That God sent His only Son to be born as human, like us in all things, in order to bring God’s Message of love to us. In “Christmas In Our Hearts,” we sing “Let love, like that starlight on that first Christmas morn, lead us back to the manger where Christ the Child was born.” Love is at the center of Christmas. The love that Jesus taught us. The love of God above all things and and loving our neighbors, especially the poor among us.