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Paskuhan is coming

How is it like to experience the Paskuhan lights for the first time? Trixia Claire Delos Santos shares her story.

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UST kicks off the Paskuhan season with its annual Christmas concert and lighting ceremony, Friday, Dec. 1. Photo by Earl Balce/TomasinoWeb.

I was barely finished eating when it happened.

The twinkling lights surrounding me suddenly went out — enveloping the University of Santo Tomas in darkness. Screams of excitement filled the cold December air and sparks of energy flew as the huge LED screens blinked with the countdown. I watched the scene in front of me in awe, yet also nervous for I was about to witness this magnificence for the very first time.

Sitting on a pavement along Lovers’ Lane, with all the people hyped for tonight’s event, everything was still a blur to me.

As soon as my classes ended at noon, Thomasians were in flurry of actions — with each mouth uttering their excitement to the most-awaited Paskuhan lighting ceremony. As the community gathered at the Plaza Mayor for the annual mass, the rain suddenly poured. However, not a single drop of rain dampened the Thomasians: Their hype only grew louder when a rainbow appeared during the mass, painting color to the gloomy sky.

“There is no dragon that cannot be tamed, nor beast that God cannot slay,” Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, O.P. said, imploring Thomasians to remember the true king among all kings.

As the Eucharistic celebration drew to conclusion, the Agape finally began. Thomasians scurried away to queue on their assigned booths for their free food.

The University went “car-less” for that day, and everywhere, crowds of people huddled together, munching on their food, with the evident crunch of the scrumptious lechon. Laughter filled the air, and I cannot help thinking that this could be the Thomasian version of Noche Buena.

The screams beside me snapped me back to reality.

Two big screens beside the stage showed the countdown for the ceremony and it made everyone squeal in sheer anticipation. O Come All Ye Faithful blared at the speakers, and with every beat, my heart resonates.

My hands are shaking.

I held up my phone, looking for any signs of spark.

My knees are shivering.

All I can see it the moon smiling at us, like it was also waiting as the lights come to life.

My heart is trembling.

I looked at my friends, the first people I have the honor to spend this momentous event.

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My lungs halted.

“Sh*t, ang ganda ng mga ilaw!”

And everyone stood in delight, pointing at the large Christmas tree which was now glowing together with the University of Santo Tomas sign. Suddenly, we were all swallowed with vibrance as the University glowed with beauty and elegance.

Everyone howled with joy, snapping photos as the beauty unraveled before them, but I stood frozen, staring at the grandeur that was in front of me — the lights that symbolize the start of the yule season in the University which I only dreamt of seeing one day.

Something exploded above me and I was completely rendered speechless — the stark black sky was sprinkled with lights. Lasting for only mere seconds, the fireworks illuminated not only the sky, but also the gloom in everyone’s hearts.

“It was really beautiful. They brought back the traditional lights hanging from the branches of trees,” Rachelle Basa from the College of Accountancy said.

“Compared to last year, it [opening of lights] was full of efforts,” Eleazar Bilog, a Senior High School — Accountancy, Business, and Management student also told me.

“Medyo nakakabitin yung fireworks, but the overall rating is two thumbs up.”

At the start, I was really having second thoughts on watching the event. I had a lot of quizzes for the next day and I badly needed to study. But my friend approached me and insisted that we should at least see the lights and the fireworks; we would be the one who would most enjoy them since it would be our first time, he said.

Indeed, he was right. Every bit of the event was worth treasuring and worth sharing.

And as I opened the door of my room, the first thing I noticed was the window at the far-end, with the Christmas tree glowing brightly from a distance. The image of Drogon suddenly flashed in my mind and then it hit me.

“Winter is coming,” as the famous motto of House Stark said. Staring into open space, there was only one thing I can think of right now — Paskuhan has finally arrived.

by Trixia Claire Delos Santos

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Sweetheart solos: Celebrating Valentine’s Day alone in the pandemic

But in the midst of all of these, how do single people celebrate Valentine’s Day?

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

What materializes in our heads during the month of February: drifting through the streets of Manila in a hurry, worried about the chocolates that might go out of stock, tipping the street vendor that sells pink balloons in Dapitan, buying bouquets, and lacing fingers with someone you like. Saint Valentine has successfully suspended February as the season of celebrating love. 

However, ever since the lockdown that happened in March of last year, people are forced to tweak their romantic rituals. Traveling to Manila would have to be done carefully for everyone’s safety, vendors will be fearful of the streets––weary of their own health and others, and the act of intertwining hands now, in the middle of a pandemic, sounds unsanitary––Lovers have no choice but to adjust.

But in the midst of all of these, how do single people celebrate Valentine’s Day? How does one make do with a month commercialized into kissing and dating, especially when someone has no one to do these with? On top of all this pressure, there is the pandemic that has forced everyone into isolation. What feeling does this give to these individuals? Is it indifference or longing? The answer is torn between the two. Several Thomasians who are celebrating Valentine’s Day as singles share their experiences and opinions with TomasinoWeb.

Saint Valentine has successfully suspended February as the season of celebrating love. 

When asked about how it feels to be celebrating the hearts’ day alone, Managerial Accounting junior Johna Palmares shrugs it off. 

“I never really saw Valentine’s as something special,” she says. “I don’t really get the essence of showing your love for a special someone on that specific day only, you know?” 

Palmares expounds on her indifference further, “We shouldn’t just wait for that specific date or day to come for us to show our devotion through surprises, dates, and others. Because then it all just becomes performative. And love is not performative.

Accountancy junior Andriene Despi echoes the same sentiment, “For as long as I [can] remember, Valentine’s Day has [always] been a normal day for me. I don’t really feel pressured to do anything, like it’s a one-day event. Why do I have to stress over the fact [that] I’m single?”

“I don’t really get the essence of showing your love for a special someone on that specific day only, you know?” 

Being single also has its advantages and Literature junior Jenric Jose agrees, “The most beneficial [opportunity] for me is having more time for my hobbies and learning new skills while stuck at home,” he says. “I can’t visit friends, I can’t go to all the places I enjoy [lke] fast-food restaurants, movie theaters, bookstores, and more, and the only way of interacting with other people is through online means.”

Despi, on a similar note, shares her smaller victories of celebrating the quarantine Valentine’s alone. “Money. ‘Di ka gagastos at ‘di ka pa lalabas.”  Mansouri says, with her highly demanding undergraduate program. She also slides in the self-indulgent benefits of celebrating alone. Because she has no one to spend money or time on, she dedicates the rest of Valentine’s Day on treating herself. “[I have] more money on K-pop [merch] and cat food, kasi I don’t have to spend money sa pag-surprise or pagbigay ng gift.” 

That is not to say, of course, that our single Thomasians are completely wrung out of yearning. When asked if he feels pressured by his social groups to commit to a relationship, Jose admits defeat, “There’s definitely some peer pressure element in there since most of my friends [have] someone to spend Valentine’s day with, whether it be physically or virtually.” 

Palmares puts the frustration plainly. Despite her strength in independence, she admits that sometimes she gets jealous, “I would find myself feeling so alone that I tend to wish for a love like other people have found. But then I’d realize that I’m not ready yet to share myself with a partner and that’s okay.”

There is something profound about how single people perceive Valentine’s Day––a celebration known universally for affection. That, like most celebrations, it is a social construct, a normal day tied up with pink bow strings and roses to push forth romance that people have gotten used to. There is self-awareness to how cheesy of an event it is and there is a realization that it can also be a little bit lonely. 

“I would find myself feeling so alone that I tend to wish for a love like other people have found. But then I’d realize that I’m not ready yet to share myself with a partner and that’s okay.”

A glimpse at how Jenric, Andriene, Johna, and Ashley perceive Valentine’s reminds us of our humanity––that we are vulnerable. We can accept and come to terms with solidarity, celebrating the fourteenth alone, but it does not mean we can dismiss yearning. 

We would all want to wake up with someone’s name flashing on our phone screens, we would all like to be seen, and we would all like to be heard. It would be nice to celebrate Valentine’s Day in someone’s arms, but it would be just as okay to spend it with friends, family, or even alone. There is strength in rendering oneself independent, but there is also strength in showing vulnerability. Justin Andrew Cruzana

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Keeping the Thomasian Spirit Alive: UST’s First Virtual Paskuhan

Capping off the first semester of the academic year is not the same without the Paskuhan concert. A night like no other, Thomasians welcomed the 29-year-old tradition in the warmth and comfort of their own homes.

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(Photo by Ralph Rainell Estrella/TomasinoWeb)

Capping off the first semester of the academic year is not the same without the Paskuhan concert. A night like no other, Thomasians welcomed the 29-year-old tradition in the warmth and comfort of their own homes.

Instead of the cacophony of noises from thousands upon thousands of Paskuhan attendees, the sound of crickets and rainfall filled the open field as the clock hit 7 on the night of December 18. The bright red, yellow, and blue lights of the Christmas tree stood out in the dark, a sure symbol and testament to how Paskuhan can never be skipped nor forgotten despite these trying times. 

With the UST Tiger TV main hosts Gayle Resubal and Kobe Dayao on-site to lead the event, this year’s Paskuhan virtual concert kicks off with a donation drive for the rehabilitation of the typhoon victims in Albay and an auction for Black Candy cosmetics, even a short recap on the event’s history. First named as Paskong Tomasino, Paskong Pilipino ’91, the original Paskuhan was also done for a cause to help the victims of the Mount Pinatubo explosion and the Ormoc flood. Twenty-nine years later, Paskuhan remains true to the essence of the Christmas spirit, with the two and a half-hour livestream accumulating 9,300 in donations.

Paskuhan continues to be the most-awaited season of the year, with the live stream garnering over 6,000 viewers. Thanks to the UST Educational Technology Center, Thomasians still got to experience Paskuhan and all its glory even just through their phones and laptop screens, perfectly embodying the hashtag, #PaskuhanKahitSaan. The community remained alive and well as festivities reminded us of our home away from home, and how it will always be home no matter the distance or the length of time spent in separation is – after all, that is what Christmas is all about.

Being “extra”, the Paskuhan concert featured a short Minecraft-version of a campus tour created by the UST Minecraft players, showing off all the lights and decorations put up around the university that surely would have been loved ten times over by Thomasians, should they have been able to witness it in real life, just like old times. 

Just like old times, this year’s Paskuhan had a return segment from last year: The Thomasian Choice Awards. The categories included the trends and crowd favorites made during the quarantine period like Best Online Class Platform, Best Workout Instructor, Best Quarantine Film, Best Quarantine Live-action Series, Best Quarantine Album, Best Artist of the Year, Best Korean Drama, Best K-Pop Group, Best Quarantine Trend, and Best TikTok Trend. 

As Paskuhan concerts are known for the lineup of bands and performers that precede the fireworks display, this year featured live footage from the most memorable performances from the previous years. Starting off with last year’s hit performer Magnus Haven, the band once again took over Paskuhan with “Imahe”, followed by the 2017 guest performer Brisom with “Balewala”, Miles Experience in 2016 with “Silakbo”, The Ransom Collective in 2018 with “Run” and “Settled”, Lola Amour in 2019 with “Fools”, Yeng Constantino in 2016 with “Hawak Kamay” and “Ikaw”, Callalily in 2017 with “Stars” and “Magbalik”, Spongecola in 2018 with “Tambay” and “Jeepney”, and of course, the Thomasian crowd favorite Ben&Ben in 2019 with “Araw-Araw” and “Ride Home”.

In between these performances, the winners for the Thomasian Choice Awards were hailed, with Google Meet winning Best Online Class Platform, Chloe Ting for Best Workout Instructor, Enola Holmes for Best Quarantine Film, The Queen’s Gambit for Best Quarantine Live-action Series, Folklore by Taylor Swift for Best Quarantine Album, Taylor Swift for Best Artist of the Year, Start-Up for Best Korean Drama, BTS for Best K-Pop Group, Dalgona Coffee for Best Quarantine Trend, and “Wah! It’s me and my jowa!” for Best TikTok Trend. 

Together with Gayle and Kobe, social media hosts Alysia Petras and AJ Supe man Twitter for the trends, tags, and posts of Paskuhan 2020 attendees, wherein they post questions under the #BakaNamanNgayongPaskuhan hashtag. Devoted Thomasians join in the fun as they tweet cheesy wishes like “sana may plot twist”, while others resort to expressing their gratitude for the community “virtually” coming together. 

Just shortly before 10:00 p.m., the concert ended with “Paskong Tomasino”, a song composed by Kenneth Reodica and Jarl Francisco, and performed by Gab Ayangco, Tweety Alarkon, Tom Targra, Keith Vicencio, Jarl Francisco, and Kenneth Reodica covering the much-awaited fireworks display and echoing every Thomasian sentiment for a chance to celebrate all these fulfilling events together in person once again.

And the song rings true:

Nangingibabaw ang pag-ibig,
Walang tatalo sa Paskong Tomasino.

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Lights From Afar: the Virtual UST Christmas Concert 2020

After the concert, the screen flashed photos from last year’s paskuhan opening––all glowing and bright just like the memories that each and everyone has made.

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(Photo by Ralph Rainell Estrella/TomasinoWeb)

An empty UST field greets the viewers, as the grandstand lights glow in the subtle darkness, waiting for the program to start. This time last year, the Thomasian community was surrounded by the holiday spirit given by the whimsical ambiance from the Christmas lights all over the campus. As every Thomasian walked around, the beautiful music from the Christmas concert created an experience that can only be felt during the start of the Paskuhan season. 

Because of the pandemic, all activities were brought online. Hence the birth of enjoying the special season in front of laptop screens. The UST Christmas Concert, led by the UST Conservatory of Music is held each year, and this time, they did not let the pandemic stop them from performing their hearts out as an ode to the holidays. FAITH in Him, HOPE for the best, LOVE in every way––these are the lines in their poster that sparked joy in these trying times. 

After beginning with a prayer, a duet was performed as the camera panned out, showing the University. While practicing social distancing, led by Fr. Isaias Tiongco, O.P., a short mass was done and before the switching of the button, the officials and professionals of the UST Hospital were called in honor for their bravery and compassion in fighting against the virus and ensuring public safety. 

At the count of three, the Christmas tree lit up with gold, red, yellow, and green. Next, the view of the Main Building filled the screen, showing the lamp posts decorated with cool tones as well as the trees in Lovers’ Lane; the Arch of the Centuries was also shown with the lighted shrubs and bushes; and lastly, the Santisimo Rosario Parish joined in. With the song Ang Pasko ay Sumapit playing in the background, a surge of “I miss you, UST!” filled in the comments section of the live stream as the screen continues to show the lit up places in the campus, ending the ceremonial opening of lights. 

(Photo by Ralph Rainell Estrella/TomasinoWeb)

“Christmas is just a few days away and we can already feel its merry atmosphere in our homes, in the university, and wherever we go,” Rev. Fr. Isaias Tiongco says, “Christmas and music go together and their celebration becomes more festive and lively when yuletide carols accompany our joyful feeling as we await the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.” He proceeds by saying that the annual Christmas concert being one of the highlights of the yuletide season in UST, is also the event where the community looks forward to the performances of the homegrown talents from the UST Conservatory of Music. 

A mixture of both classical and popular Christmas tunes imagined and interpreted by the finest of the finest musicians brought joy and peace to the viewers. “This year’s concert will be held virtually due to the current situation, but despite this, we know that our concert continues to raise the musical bar as it has become an awaited tradition, not only by Thomasians but also music luminaries and enthusiasts, and those who wish to feel the delightful Christmas spirit and festive atmosphere, even if we can only watch it on our screens,” Rev. Fr. Tiongco adds. 

Even though the tradition is not held within the UST Chapel or in the Plaza Mayor, the Conservatory of Music still made it possible for the event to continue and bring the viewers the festive atmosphere that should be experienced during the holidays. Rev. Fr. Tiongco ends his message by thanking Dr. Antonio Africa, the dean of the Conservatory of Music, the students, faculty members, and the alumni who have made the event possible, “I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous new year 2021.” he ends with a smile. 

Like angels, dressed in white, the Coro Tomasino starts with “Magnum Mysterium”, composed by Ronaldo Raz, welcoming the viewers with its calming progression. Regardless of the physical boundary between the singers and the audience, their voices still made listeners have goosebumps in delight.

“Despite the limitations, we would like to offer this evening of songs to lift the spirit as we have always done during this season of light. Let the Child Jesus be our inspiration to celebrate life despite the adversities,” Assoc. Prof. Peter Porticos said, “Our faith in Him shall deliver us from all the tribulations we are facing today.” 

(Photo by Ralph Rainell Estrella/TomasinoWeb)

After the first performance, several alumni of the UST Conservatory of Music sang “Bituing Natatangi”, arranged by Ricky Sanchez, followed by Ed Parunago’s “Diwa ng Pasko” sang by the Liturgikon Vocal Ensemble dressed in Christmas colors, firing up the season of giving. 

A total of eighteen performances were presented at this year’s Christmas concert: “What Child is This”, arranged by Naldy Rodriguez was performed by Nenen Espina, Mary Anne Espina, and Gina Medina. The Silangcruz family played a Christmas medley with the flute. Another Christmas medley that brought joy to the event was by the Brass and Percussion Ensemble from the UST Conservatory of Music. Members of the UST Conservatory of Music Faculty Guitar Quarter also showed their talents by performing “Sleigh Ride” which was composed by Leroy Anderson and arranged by Heo Kyenomposer, making the song fun and exciting to listen to. Followed by the UST Wind Orchestra who brought in heavy talent with their performance of “Christmas Around the World” which was arranged by Jerry Williams. They did not stop there for they also performed “God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen” arranged by Chip Davis which added more flair to the event. 

“Kumukutikutitap” by Ryan Cayabyab was also performed by the Woodwind Quintet with their version arranged by Jedrick Itugot. Victor Victorino, a faculty member of the Conservatory of Music played the restored pipe organ along with Renato Lucas who played the cello, performed “Andante-Allegro” at the Conservatory of Music’s recital hall, giving the audience a feel of Baroque music. Class 1 & 3 showcased their talents with the ever so popular “Jingle Bells” while “Marriage of Figaro Overture” was also played on the piano by several alumni. 

The former dean of the UST Conservatory of Music, Raul M. Sunico,  played his arrangement of “Pamaskong Handog ni WOW!” on piano emanating lively mash-ups of famous holiday songs. Rachelle Gerodias Park along with her husband, Byeong In-Park sang “Jesu Bambino” which was also arranged by Sunico. 

(Photo by Ralph Rainell Estrella/TomasinoWeb)

“The Good King Wenceslas” was performed by the UST Symphony Orchestra followed by an original composition by The TonTones, an acapella group, entitled, “Sa Araw na Ito” which shared catchy lyrics. And last but certainly not the least, The UST Singers sang the “Mantovani Christmas Medley” arranged by Naldy Rodriguez, which showed a marvelous performance. Wrapping the concert, the Coro Tomasino and the Liturgikon Vocal Ensemble along with the Large Ensemble Class 1 & 3 and accompanied by the UST Symphony Orchestra performed a soothing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”  arranged by JR De Guzman. 

“We all thank you for joining us tonight,” the program ends with a message from Dr. Antonio Africa thanking the audience’s participation from their homes, “We the Conservatory of Music wish you the best of the yuletide season despite the adversities. In the middle of all that is happening, let us always remember that the Child Jesus was born to be with us, guide us, and save us.” He reminds the audience to always put faith, hope, and love in Jesus, “At nawa’y ang pag-ibig na dulot ni Hesus ay maghari sa ating mga puso.

After the concert, the screen flashed photos from last year’s paskuhan opening––all glowing and bright just like the memories that each and everyone has made. The tree symbolizes hope for the future and pushes the people to continue to fight against the mishaps and troubles that happened this year. For now, we rely on the power of technology to bridge the gaps that the pandemic has created. As the music comes to a halt, comments like, “Masaya ang pasko dito sa UST”, “Proud to be a Thomasian!”, “Tatak Tomasino.”, and greetings to all flooded the comment section once again, displaying the longing for contact and celebrating Paskuhan events together.

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