BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines — Something unusual — and yes, funny — happens on the socmed accounts of Filipinos during August.
Yes, Filipinos. And yes, August.
Specifically, during the dying days of August.
Just one word, “Whenever.”
And one image: A Chinese looking gentleman in a suit, sporting a wide smile that reaches his eyes that almost look like slits.
To foreigners, the meme does not make sense.
To Filipinos, the meme is so culturally ingrained and the gentleman in question is so iconic that the message of the graphic image need no explanation.
“Whenever” is of course the first word in the song oft-heard in malls all over the country, and the gentleman is its equally iconic singer.
Thus, the Filipinos have made an icon out of Christmas in our Hearts and Jose Mari Chan.
The song is celebrating its 32nd anniversary this year, but its impact has not waned and had even overshadowed the classics (Ang Pasko ay Sumapit, for instance), or Tuloy na Tuloy Pa Rin ang Pasko by the Apo Hiking Society.
Why? Blame it on the malls.
Before Facebook made pop culture even more pop, malls have already been airing the Jose Mari Chan song by the time September 1 hits. It’s a no-fuss song, easy to listen to, with a saccharine message of love being in the hearts of all because it’s Christmas.
It’s not festive, not about momma kissing Santa, or noche buena, or bells jingling.
It is also easily digestible so FM stations in the 90s picked up the song and started playing it during the season.
Households also bought copies of the song — cassette tape form — and started playing these in parties.
As malls display and sell Christmas decors, the accompanying music is invariably Christmas in our Hearts so of course the music has become associated not just with the season but with the Ber months.
Come the actual season, and churches started playing them too because it references not Santa but Christ (in a manger as he sleeps), so it hews closely to the religious tradition of why we celebrate Christmas.
The push from commercial establishments, and then later on the Churches, and now some enterprising people in social media has led to Christmas in Our Hearts and Jose Mari Chan as the Yuletide icons that they are now.
It has become memetic, viral, iconic.
In fact, the song has become such a part of pop culture it has edged out apparently from Filipino consciousness the other iconic song, All I Want for Christmas is You popularized by Mariah Carey.
Thus is the appeal of Jose Mari Chan, the man, the symbol, the face of Filipino Christmas.