In the context of the New Year, I am writing about Christmas.
Every December, the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Diliman erupts with lights, colors, and fireworks at what people have known as the annual Lantern Parade, a tradition which began in 1922.
Then it was a simple homage to an old Christmas tradition at the UP Manila campus, but has evolved into a spectacular event with remarkable creations (lanterns, floats, music and costumes) that are mostly commentaries of the social and political landscape of the country.
Once when I was still a student, I was honored to be chosen as its emcee. That’s why the UP Lantern Parade brings warm memories.
But the festive event suddenly became even more meaningful for me this year because of Mateo.
“Mateo?! Mateo of the ‘Oh, Mateo!’ series?!”“Yes, that Mateo."
At this point, I will let AT and GMA News tell the story:
“At the tail end of the 2017 Lantern Parade were the works of the students from the College of Fine Arts, who compete in their own category. Their creations were a celebration of human rights, especially rights that every child enjoys at birth.
“The students visualized a child's right to life, right to be safe from harm, right to education, and right to information among other things.
“Second year students who presented right to self-expression won first place!" (Exclamation point mine)
Mateo was the students’ top-of-mind choice to: “Speak Right, Speak Love.”
I could only guess why. These students (aged 16 and 17 today) must have been reading the “Oh, Mateo!” series while learning to read and growing up.
Mateo is an eight-year-old, adventurous Christian boy whose mother died when he was a baby. His father, a hardworking farmer in a small town, is bringing him up single-handedly.
Together with OMF, my publisher, I envisioned Mateo to symbolize children reared on good values such as RESPECT (for elders, peers, nature, rights of others), HARD-WORK (in school, at home, in the neighborhood), and HONESTY (with money, possessions, words, feelings). Award-winning art director, Beth Parrocha-Doctolero, gave Mateo a unique, lovable image, and she went on to illustrate all 15 books of the series.
This winning float therefore affirms Mateo, what he stands for. He won not only in the competition, but won big in the heart of children.
Every new year, as kids grow up and outgrow the “Oh, Mateo!” series, I pray that they will never outgrow the Christian values they learned through him. And that new, younger readers will find a friend in Mateo.
Happy New Year!