Have you ever wondered what Jose Rizal did when he had a few more days left in this world?
If you are condemned to die on a firing squad, how will you feel? If time is ticking and you will be celebrating your last Christmas, what do you think is on your mind? An extraordinary man like Jose Rizal would probably think more about what’s going to happen to his countrymen when he dies than his own mortality I suppose. Who will pick up the slack and continue the fight for freedom when he dies? These are some of the things that may have gone into his head as his days are numbered.
Despite the dark clouds looming over him, Rizal’s Christmas of 1895 may have been one of the happiest events of his life for it was the time that he let himself loose in the paradise of Dapitan. For the first time, he was living like a free man and away from the burdens of the propaganda movement and running away for the enemies — both real and imagined. For a change, he dwell himself with the idea of being a domestic. The presence of his Irish wife Josephine Bracken made him someone he never dreamed of — a loving “husband” and a good housekeeper.
In fact, he was probably loving the domestic solitude that he thought about living in Dapitan for good. Josephine even learned to work like a Filipina wife should do — from cleaning the house to cooking delectable native dishes. Rizal even wrote to his sister Trinidad, “She cooks, washes, takes care of the chickens and the house. In the absence of miki for making pancit, she made some long macaroni noodles out of flour and eggs, which serves the purpose. If you could send me a little angkak, I should be grateful to you, for she makes bagoong. She makes also chili miso, but it seems to me that what we have will last for 10 years.”
In his humble home in Talisay (outskirts of Dapitan), Rizal had his last Christmas party (if you call it that way) with Josephine personally taken control of the event. There was the ever-popular lechon where Rizal roasted a small pig on a slow charcoal fire. The neighbors and other people in the surrounding areas attended, where they were treated with Rizal’s favorite chicken broth made from the fat hen he personally chose. Rizal eventually recalled the event in his letter to his sister, “We celebrated merrily, as almost always. We roasted a small pig and hen. We invited our neighbors. There was dancing, and we laughed a great deal until dawn.”
In retrospect, the celebration of Rizal Day on December 30 should be the same as the way we celebrate Independence Day on June 12 and Rizal’s Birthday on June 19. We tend to overlook Rizal Day as an important holiday and historical date. Is it because New Year’s Day and Christmas are much more important?
By the time he was on his lonesome under the dark corridors of his cell in Fort Santiago, Christmas was nowhere near as he was busy preparing for his treason trial. He haven’t sent any Christmas cards and letters to friends and family that he used to. On his letter to defense attorney Luis Taviel de Andrade:
“I have been waiting for you this morning to speak with you about an important matter, but undoubtedly your pursuits did not permit you to come. If you have time to spare, I should like to speak with you before I appear before the Council. I would appreciate it very much, this afternoon, this evening or morning.”
“Wishing you Merry Christmas, I reiterate I am as ever your attentive, affectionate servant and client who kisses your hand.”
Sad and dreary unlike the letters he sent to his family and friends when he was still in Europe a few years back:
It is quite obvious that Christmas would be quite gloomy and miserable when you know the fact that you’re going to die on a firing squad. There is no record of his last noche buena and condemned criminals are quite lucky because they get to eat their last meal with the favorite food they always want.
What if Jose Rizal was not in prison waiting for his judgment and execution? Well, he would probably helped his siblings put on the parols and other Christmas decors in their home in Binondo or perhaps spend quality time with Josephine in a romantic sunset of Dapitan.
Contrasting his sad experience in Fort Santiago was his unforgettable Christmas on his first year in Dapitan where he shared his winnings of the Manila Lottery by investing in public health and public works. He even spent his Christmas dinner with the city’s Spanish commandant wherein Rizal recalled, “I spent a merry Christmas here. It could not have been merrier. I had a happy dinner on Christmas eve, together with my host (the commandant), three Spaniards from a neighboring town, and a Frenchman. We heard Mass at 12:00 midnight, for you know I go to Mass here every Sunday.”
Though he loved native cooking, Rizal was a picky eater too. In fact, he even requested his mother to send him some Laguna cheese, mangoes and “terrinas de foie gras.” But what strikes me the most is the fact that he fancies the “expensive” foie gras that Parisians love. Rizal would have gained weight and perhaps become pot bellied if he ate too much pork during his entire Dapitan stay. He wrote to Trinidad that there were so many fruits to eat such as pineapples, atis and mangoes. He said he ate beef rarely and that he slaughtered one chicken a month. He was tired of pork that there was so much lard that he could use so he gave some away.
Though Dapitan has a good fishing town, fish as becoming scarce and Rizal said that they only had small shrimps and anchovy. Since he stopped planting, there was also a scarcity of vegetables and so he wrote his sister asking for tokwa, monggo, and dried small fish.