MANILA, December 24, 2003 (STAR) Most Filipinos are looking forward to a happy Christmas and are grateful to be alive and enjoying good health, according to a nationwide uncommissioned survey.

Four out of five or 77 percent of 1,200 poll respondents anticipate the holidays this year to be happy, while only four percent expect it to be sad and 20 percent said it would be neither, the survey showed.

"Happiness with Christmas is widespread across areas and social classes," pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS), which conducted the opinion poll, said in a statement.

In last year’s survey, 82 percent said Christmas would be happy, three percent said sad and 15 percent said it would be neither.

When asked what things they are most thankful for, most said for being alive (36 percent) and for having good health (35 percent).

Good health, surviving in life and good family relations were the most popular responses in last year’s survey, the SWS said.

The poll was conducted from Nov. 8 to 24. It has an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points and a 95 percent confidence level.

CHRISTMAS WITH THE COJUANGCOS By Tingting Cojuangco The Philippine STAR 12/21/2003

Wake up, it’s 12 noon," Peping nags. "Oh, never mind," the children lazily answer, "No one comes on time." An hour and a half later, Peping’s sisters and brother finally arrive at 11 Palm Avenue, the ancestral home of the Jose Cojuangco Sr. brood. True to form, we arrive a few minutes later. We are late every year. We are teased, either in jest or irritation. "That’s because you live so far," everybody would say (and it’s just a block away!). Ninoy in the ’60s chose that residence in Forbes Park and convinced my in-laws to live there. Little did we think, Peping and my two children Liaa and Pin would move there with his parents. We squatted at Forbes, leaving Tarlac to reside in Manila because of martial law. It also became Cory’s home "once in a while" during those times with her children Noynoy, Ballsy, Viel, Pinky, and Kris. In that home, we continue to celebrate Christmas Day together with Peping’s sisters – Josephine Reyes, Terry Lopa, Cory and Passy and Esting Teopaco and Koyang Pete and Sari, and three of our brothers- in-law who have since passed away.

In the ’60s, the fifth generation Cojuangco children would run around in their correctional shoes, play with dogs in the garden or a motorbike and cry at having bruises or losing out on toy grabbing. Sari was the cause of a baby boom in the family like Terry. The children kept on increasing and getting older. We weren’t getting older, or so we believed throughout the ’70s. The ’80s brought numerous children into the marrying age. Now we couldn’t deny our maturity, with those children making us lolos and lolas of the 21st century.

The fifth, sixth and now, the seventh generation are mandated to live by the tradition which is to attend the yearly Christmas lunch gathering as one huge family. This home has been witness to Cojuangco family members looking rather sleepy from late nights out or packing too many gifts. One glance at the door that has welcomed presidents, dignitaries, public servants and the best of friends sends the elder cousins squeaking hellos and ear-piercing cries of "What’s new?" at the first glance of their cousins. It’s a boisterous reunion peppered with questions like "How short your hair is!" "What’s your diet?" "When did you arrive from Canada?" "You still work there?" And the embarrassing question of all, "Who owns this child?"

Every year the six magkakapatid, four sisters and two brothers, take turns to deck the house for Christmas. The best Christmas ever was in the ’80s when Ate Jo had fabricated a very tall and wide wooden Christmas tree. It was placed in the middle of the living room with huge wooden balls and toys inside niches. Grandchildren could easily fit inside any niche (well, that’s as far as I can remember) and ride in the motorized platform where the tree stood and turned around and around till they were dizzy. Around the living area and the pebbled porch were shiny Christmas balls hanging from the ceiling in green, silver and red with tinsel and make-believe mistletoes.

We play games after lunch (upon Ate Jo’s suggestion), a yuletide tradition we have carried this on for years. Every child of the seventh generation – making us grandparents 33 times over – all vie to win prizes ranging from P2,000 to P20,000. Guessing games on current events with subject matters such as Philippine politics, movies, books, to mimicking people illicit tears of laughter. "No coaching please," family members would shout and this brings a lot of dissenting voices and scolding. "You should have said this or that! See we could have won, but didn’t you see me signaling you?"

While the others are battling it out at the games, some are unwrapping gifts near the Christmas tree, leaving papers and ribbons all around the marble floor. The grandchildren cry for attention, run around, fall and bump into each other, find succor in parents or crawl. Lita, the manang of the house, brings out huge balikbayan boxes. Tatang Fred, my father-in-law’s yayo, whom we thought was immortal but passed away last year used to do this task. We all throw our trash of torn tissue paper, scotch tape, Kleenex, and broken boxes from impatient receivers into these giant trash boxes to tidy up the living room. With this, the adults can walk without fear of accidentally stepping on toys like cars, rag dolls and trains. It’s truly pandemonium in Forbes every 25th day of December at lunchtime.

By the end of the reunion at 6 p.m., houseboys and housegirls, drivers, nannies and guards are called in to join us and play several bingo games and win cash prizes while we snack on lunch leftovers. Our food varies yearly. Once we had Japanese food, then Spanish, then Italian food. One could travel the world over with our menus. Or get sleepy from over-indulgence. "No dinner for us tonight" is the day’s evening chant, "We’ve gained five pounds today." "No, no, more like ten."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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