IN THE MIDDLE | career advancement


By Atty. Domingo Y. Reyes, Jr., Ll.M., Ph.D.
Published January 13, 2022

The Christmas holidays are still very much in the air even though it's already mid-January. One can say that the recent Christmas and New Year celebrations were much better than the previous one. Although I saw a number of children back on the streets going house to house for their Christmas gifts of monies, the celebration was still much restrained. 

Every Christmas day, I couldn't help but remember our rural and old-fashioned way of celebrating the birth of Jesus. We were not brought up believing in Santa Claus. Early on, it was clear, at least for me, that there was no magical Santa that would come in the middle of the night to bring gifts that we listed early on; besides, we had no chimney where Santa could pass through to drop off our gifts. Nevertheless, I was and still am so fond of the Santa Claus story, especially that of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Besides the new clothes and shoes (usually oversized in order for it to last for a long time) that we were given every Christmas, there was a strict observance to visit our elders (i.e., our grandparents, uncles, aunties, godparents, and other community elders who were considered families) to bow a bit, reach for their right hand to gently place it on our forehead, and solemnly say "mano po" then wait for their blessings or for them to say "Pagpalain/Kawaan ka nawa ng Diyos" (May God bless/have mercy on you). This came with strict instructions not to accept monies that would be given, but of course, I still accepted the gifted cash because they insisted. How fun it was falling in line and waiting for my turn with my other cousins and children of relatives and friends. 

"Mano po" is a sign of respect for elders and a humble way of requesting for blessings. A wonderful and beautiful cultural tradition and heritage that is indeed uniquely Filipino.

As kissing the hands of elders or people older than us who are present on occasions or gatherings — in our family or otherwise — has always been observed, the youngest would normally end up with the most number of hands placed on his forehead. As we joked then, "Makinis na ang noo!" (the forehead is already smooth). Like in many rural areas and families that I know, kissing the hands of elders is still very much practiced.

Thus, the time came when the children of cousins, nieces, and nephews started coming, and our role as elders ourselves finally began. Early on, I was reluctant. I felt awkward whenever my cousins' children would reach out for my right hand to be placed on their forehead and ask for my blessings. As they attempt, I brush aside their hand(s) and just signal them to not do it anymore and would just joke that I was not that old yet. That is until Mamang (Lydia Colina), my auntie and my father’s elder sister, saw what I did. She fiercely looked at me and called my attention, short of scolding me. She asked me why I was brushing away the hands that reached out for mine to ask for my blessings. I was speechless; I could not even utter any word to justify my actions. She then followed it up with another question, “Gaano ba kahirap magpamano?” (How hard could it be to give one's hand?) Again, I was silent. She ended up with words of wise advice, "Huwag mo putulin ang isang magandang kaugalian." (Don't put a stop to a beautiful tradition/habit) All I could utter to end my embarrassment was "Opo" (a reverential yes in Filipino) and "Tatandaan ko po. Hindi na mauulit." (I will remember, and it will not happen again)

From then on, I have consciously allowed younger people to kiss my hand and utter clearly my blessings – "Pagpalain/Kaawaan ka nawa ng Diyos!"

But as I grow older in age (not necessarily in wisdom), I observed that the practice of this good old tradition of making "mano" is diminishing and I am worried that soon, this "magandang kaugalian ng pagamamano" will become a thing of the past and would just be part of our storybooks.

So, while I still kiss the hands of my elders and the people who are older than me, it delights me to see and experience that there are still children (of my cousins and my godchildren at weddings) who are oriented in this good old tradition of respect for elders. However, lesser do I now experience children kissing elders' hands, especially in urbanized places. There were times I attempted to extend my hands, but what I got instead was a peck on my cheek (for girls) and/or bear hugs (for boys).

The idea and the possibility of the old-fashioned gesture being gone and replaced by westernized ways of kissing and hugging truly saddens me. While I have nothing against these forms of giving respect, I still believe that our traditional "pagmamano" is more profound in terms of meaning, value, honor and reverence that we, the young generation, give to our elders, according them the due recognition of their invaluable contributions to who we have become. This is also an act of humility - bowing down and asking for their blessings as they are considered God's representatives here on Earth for having been born ahead of us that paved the way for our future.

Since the foundation of the world, it has always been in the blessed hands of our elders that God entrusts the young people of every present generation.

As our Christmas Season draws to a close, may I call on my fellow elders to revive and continue this age-old tradition of "pagmamano" — an expression of our respect, reverence and gratitude for our elders — for humility amongst our children and us to once again flourish in our midst as Filipinos.