A group of kababayans went around the Amber Trails area in Winnipeg a day before Christmas Eve to revive the Filipino custom of house-to-house caroling. Organized by the 204 Neighbourhood Watch, Inc., the event drew around 30 participants who came from all over the city and even outside of it, as this writer and his family drove all the way from Steinbach to join the activity.
In the Philippines, the traditional Christmas caroling is done by groups of kids who go from house to house to serenade homeowners with Yuletide tunes such as “Jingle Bells”, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, and “Pasko na Naman (It’s Christmas Again),” among many other English and Filipino songs. Carolers typically use improvised musical instruments like a tambourine made out of flattened bottle caps that are strung around a wire hoop, and banging on pots or pans for percussion. Homeowners would then hand out token amounts of PHP 10 to PHP 20 to carolers to show their appreciation of the performance. Larger amounts like PHP 100 and more are reserved for adult carolers who are usually members of organizations that are raising funds for a cause.
The evening’s participants – a merry mix of the young and the young at heart — initially met up at a commercial area by Keewatin Street around 6:00 PM, then proceeded to the residence of group founder Leila Castro where the carolers were briefed about the route, did some rehearsals, and snacked on BakeRite pan de sal and hot beverages before braving the evening cold. A well-known community advocate, Castro was able to entice prominent Filipino kababayan to support her endeavours such as the 204 Neighbourhood Watch and the evening’s activity. Four homeowners around the Amber Trails welcomed the group into their homes to sing Christmas carols. Among them were the Aseron residence of Adrian Rey and Kris Ann, The Cruz residence of Darlene and Philip of Fil-Canadian Auto Repair, the Casimiro residence of Rodel and Imelda, and the De Quiroz residence of prominent realtors Nestor and Jackie. In a statement on her Facebook account, Castro thanked the generosity of the homeowners with the usual farewell of Filipino carolers, “Thank you, thank you, ang babait ninyo (you are very kind), thank you!”
The group wrapped up the activity at the nearby Jollibee branch where they shared a supper of crispy chicken, fries and pop. Following tradition, the kid carolers divvied up their earnings, with each one taking home 30 dollars, along with lots of candy and treats. In summing up the event, Castro said it was all about “spreading words of love and hope through Christmas carols, and letting Filipino-Canadian kids experience a popular Christmas tradition of the Philippines.”
The Philippine-style caroling was a special project of 204 Neighbourhood Watch. Founded by Castro back in the spring of 2017, the group is more known for keeping a watchful eye over the community as they patrol three hours a week in different areas of the city upon request. Modelled after Bear Clan which initially guided them, 204 Neighbourhood Watch inspects parks
and playgrounds, picks up drug baggies and liquor bottles. In their first six months, the group has already rendered 650 manhours of community volunteerism, thanks to an average of 12 people showing up to volunteer every patrol night.
With the city of Winnipeg experiencing a record level of 44 homicides in 2019, having volunteer community patrols like Bear Clan and Castro’s group are a welcome presence on the streets. The Winnipeg Neighbourhood Outreach and Watch (NOW) Patrol is another group that’s all set to pitch in. Founded by Winnipeg community figure Jeri Stern, NOW Patrol describes itself as “a campaign to harness the power of neighbourhood collaboration and mobile technology that will inspire and empower citizens to get involved in maintaining community safety and poverty reduction.”
NOW Patrol held a city-wide meet and greet of various neighbourhood patrol groups on the evening of January 10th. The three-hour event took place at the Smitty’s by Ellice and St. James. Among the participants were representatives from Bear Clan, Fearless R2W, the Citizens on Patrol Program (COPP), the Winnipeg Jewish Business Council (WJBC), Ponz Mapuyan of NorWest Co-op, and Leila and Rene Castro of 204 Neighbourhood Watch.
Each representative was allotted 10 to 13 minutes to talk about their group, followed by 2 to 5 minutes for Q & A. During Castro’s turn to speak, she described her 2-year old organization as “composed of ordinary people — foster parents, health care aide workers, carpenters, car dealers, community workers.” She shared her core belief that everyone should be involved in protecting Winnipeg, and that Manitobans should get to know each other so that everyone feels welcome and safe, especially newcomers.
“We are thankful for the humbling and eye-opening experience of walking for hours to know our neighbourhood and be able to do something to make it a safer place.”