Francisco Arcellana

A Celebration of Francisco Arcellana, National Artist for Literature, 1990,
and one of his fiction masterpieces: "Christmas Gift" (ca. '50s)
brought up to 2000 as a timeless gift across the seas and the generations.
With side-by-side teleplay adaptation by Alberto S. Florentino

A Short Story by Francisco Arcellana
(Manila, ca. '50s)


I walked into the bazaar not knowing what I wanted really, not sure what exactly to expect. To be certain I wanted gifts to give away to friends but just what to get for them I had not the least idea. The place was startlingly crowded; there was a barker at the door vociferous and savage with voice and megaphone and gesture; people streamed steadily in and out; feet shuffled in confusion and clamor and babel; the cash register rang unceasingly; coins clinked and changed hands; dolls piped: Mamma, Mamma.

I was standing still trying to make up my mind, somehow not doing a very good job of it, when I saw the girl. I saw her and I knew what I wanted. I wanted whatever she had in her stall for sale. I walked to where she was, stood before her stall, she stood beside me with an eager air. She had Disney rabbits for sale, canvas and white fur, dressed in many colors.

There was a pile of them, the ones on top had their faces soiled as if they had been pressed into mire, ears awry and in some totally misplaced from too much handling, legs loosened from their sockets, feet squeezed out of shape, bears pressed back and dirty against their faces. Some of the rabbits were one-eyed: their eyes were red glass beads.

I dug into the pile, started searching for whole and more or less untouched ones. I wanted only four but after I saw the girl I knew I was going to purchase five. (F.A.)

Are there male and female rabbits? I asked, and if there are, how do we tell them apart?

Continuation of the short story
as adapted by Alberto Florentino
for a teleplay on Balintataw:
(Manila, ca. 2000)

HE: Are there male and female rabbits?
SHE: Oh, yes….
HE: How do we tell them apart?

(She laughs. Her laughter makes him think of glass tinkling.)

HE: Why do you laugh?
SHE: I thought only another rabbit would care to know.

(He joins her laughter.)

SHE: Here's how to tell them apart: the male rabbits have pants and suspenders; the female have shirts and skirts.
HE: Of course, of course. Skirts for the female, pants for the male. Hasn't it always been so since very long ago?

(He picks among the rabbits.)

HE: Is this one all right?
SHE: Oh, yes!
HE: (picking a male one) Do you think he is all right?
SHE: Yes.
HE: (picking a female) Do you think she is all right?
SHE: She's all right.
HE: How about this one?
SHE: (taking it from him) Not that one.
HE: Why not?
SHE: He has a clubfoot.
HE: (inspects it) Yes, he does, he does. (picks another) And this one?
SHE: (takes it from him) Her hips are dislocated.
HE: Maybe you should have a hospital for sick rabbits.

(She laughs again.)

HE: And how about this one?
SHE: His left ear is missing.
HE: His name wouldn't be Van Gogh?
SHE: Van Gogh?
HE: He was a painter. Cut his ear—

(She squirms. He drops the subject.)

Continuation of
Francisco Arcellana's short story:

She was not more than a girl, she was perhaps seventeen or eighteen and not older than that, she had very fine eyes and they laughed and they shone in the flood of lights in spite of themselves (It must be the season, I thought), her face was pale and oval, her hair was like a dark crown about her face (a crown that shone and gleamed nonetheless), she reached up to my shoulder, she was not really very tall, her shoulders were slight and her body was slim and young and straight.. Somehow she did not belong to the place. She seems to be one meant, that is to say, born to receive gifts. (F.A.)

Continuation of the Television Adaptation:

(Soon he has picked out four rabbits: two male and two female, each with a different dress.)

HE: Now I have four here… but I will need another one, a fifth rabbit.
SHE: You want a male?
HE: (protesting too much) Oh, no!
SHE: A female then.
HE: Of course, it has to be female. I want it for a girl. A lovely girl.
SHE: Oh…
HE: I will need your help.
SHE: I'd be glad to—
HE: Will you pick out one for me?
SHE: Oh, yes.

(He steps aside and she steps forward to the table and her hands go expertly among the rabbits. She is not very long in picking.)

SHE: Here.
HE: That was fast. Thank you…. (He looks at it, then turns to her.)
HE: She is very beautiful, don't you think so?
SHE: Oh, yes, she is… she is.
HE: Do you think she will do for a lovely girl?
SHE: Oh, I'm sure.

HE: (He hands over to her the other four rabbits.) Can you have them wrapped up, please?
SHE: Separately?
HE: Yes. And I'd like a different color for each.
SHE: What color?
HE: For the rabbit with the blue skirt, I want a blue wrapper.

(She bundles the rabbits in her arms, male and female together, ears stuck out in every direction. The rabbits are funny and at the same time holy in her arms. She is like a picture of the Madonna. Her face, looking at him over the pile of rabbits in her arms, is curious and wondering—What did he want so many rabbits for?—her eyes amused and shining.)

(She walks away to wrap the rabbits. He follows her. He watches her while she wraps them up.)

(The wrapping paper and the boxes are near a stall where they have toy organolas. He picks up one of them and works out the tune of "Holy night, silent night…" on the keys.)

(When she is through, she places the boxes one on top of the other. Topmost is the blue-wrapped box.)

(She gathers the boxes from her arms, fumbling and being clumsy about it.)

SHE: I'm sorry… really sorry.
HE: How much would that be?

(She turns after her arms were free at last, bends, and removes the pencil that rests on her ear. She starts figuring. He looks over her shoulder and sees that she is doing multiplication.)

SHE: That will be P2,500. (He takes out a bill.)
HE: Here.

(She takes it without a word. They both walk to the cash register. A bell rings and the box with many compartments springs out like a jack-in-the-box. There are a lot of coins there, and bills. She counts out his change.)

(He puts out his palm and she places the coins there.)

SHE: Thank you.

(He stows the loose change away in his pocket. She starts to move away. He catches her arm.)

HE: Excuse me… That's not all.
SHE: You want some other things?
HE: No.

(He takes out the topmost box, the one with the female rabbit in the white blue polka-dotted shirt and blue skirt, the one with the white and shining fur, the blue-wrapped box.)

HE: I was going to buy only four because I really needed only four—
SHE: You took five—
HE: I meant to make a gift of the fifth one for someone. Someone special.
SHE: Oh, you want it wrapped specially for her?
HE: No, it's special enough… (She is puzzled.)
HE: I now want to give it to her.
SHE: You want us to deliver it—?
HE: No, the fifth rabbit, the female one, the beautiful one—is for you.
SHE: For me?
HE: Yes.
SHE: Oh, no, please… I can’t take it.
HE: Please take it.
SHE: I can't.
HE: You must take it.
SHE: Why?
HE: You picked her out yourself—
SHE: I only tried to help—it could've been anybody—
HE: No, not just anybody. Please take it… please….
SHE: I'm grateful but I can’t take it, I just can't—
HE: Why not?
YW: We're not allowed—
HE: Is there a law, a regulation, against receiving gifts? During the Christmas season?
SHE: Well—
HE: (very convincingly) Please do not refuse me. I really meant it for you. I shan’t leave until you take it. Please don’t make it too hard for me. I will be very happy if you take it. The season is with us, don't you know? It's Christmas. The season for giving. And receiving.

SHE: (She looked around her confusedly.) Will it make you unhappy if I don’t take it?
HE: It will make me miserable… very miserable. It will mean the worst Christmas I will ever have.
SHE: All right then… I'll take it. (She takes it from him.)
HE: Thank you.
SHE: I should thank you.
HE: Then… do so….
SHE: Thank you… for this.
HE: You're welcome. And thank you—
SHE: For what?
HE: For helping me. And for accepting it. And since the season is with us… Merry Christmas!
SHE: Merry Christmas to you, too.


Continuation and ending of
Francisco Arcellana's Christmas Story:

She walked to her stall with the box under her arm.. She stood beside the stall for a moment not knowing what to do with the box. Then she stooped and placed the box on the footrest under the table.

I saw her before a group of schoolgirls flocked about her, she half-smiled and half-frowned at me. I left the bazaar only after I could not see her any more as she was bent over the red beaded-eye Disney rabbits, and the barker had begun to eye me with unchristian suspicion. (F.A.)



In the '60s two short stories, "The Mats" and "Flowers of May," by Francisco Arcellana were adapted for Our Very Own, a TV anthology of dramatic readings directed by Fr. James B. Reuter, SJ, and narrated by Gilda Cordero-Fernando, broadcast "live" on TV (no magnetic tape yet), starring most of the members of the duo-National Artists, Lamberto and Daisy Avellana, for Film/Theater and Theater, respectively, and the equally talented members of Avellana family.

In the mid-60s Francisco Arcellana's "The Flowers of May" was adapted by Mauro Avena for television (Balintataw I) but was vetoed by the director, Lupita Aquino (now) Kashiwahara.

A planned sequel, "The Mats," was aborted.

Florentino much, much later, adapted "Christmas Gift" for Balintataw I, but by that time TV drama anthology had gone off the air after 5 years (1967-1971). Balintataw won the CCMM Hall of Fame Award.

Avena's script of his adaptation ("Flowers of May") would be in the Balintataw scripts donated to the UP Library Archives.

Florentino's script of his adaptation ("Christmas Gift 2000") was recently retrieved from the playwright's records in Manhattan and reset in Manila, Year 2000.

This special adaptation, incorporating the beginning and ending of Arcellana's original short story, bracketing Florentino's special adaptation, is designed for dramatic or staged reading.

This version is dedicated to Teacher-director Gia Marcia de la Cruz of Marcelli School in Taytay, Rizal, who recently staged the Tagalog translation of Florentino's "Oli Impan."

Florentino in the '60s published Arcellana's Selected Stories: Francisco Arcellana (Peso Books) and Storymasters 5: The Yellow Shawl and Other Short Stories by Francisco Arcellana (Storymasters/Peso Books).

Arcellana's third book, The Arcellana Sampler, was published by the Creative writing Center, U.P.

In 1990 Arcellana was proclaimed as Philippine National Artist for Literature.
He retired from the University of the Philippines as Professor Emeritus.

His next (fourth) book is in the press: The Essential Arcellana (DLSUPress) due to come out 2002.

Francisco Arcellana was born September 6, 1916 and passed away on August 1, 2002, at the age of 85. Following is an obituary written by Lakambini Sitoy; all rights reservd.

Friday, August 02, 2002
National Artist Francisco Arcellana, 85 
by Lakambini Sitoy
National Artist for Literature Francisco Arcellana succumbed to pneumonia and kidney -failure shortly before noon yesterday. He was 85. Arcellana died at 11:45 a.m. at the National Kidney Institute, where he had been confined for a week. His remains will lie in state at the UP Chapel (Pa-rish of the Holy Sacrifice) in Diliman, Quezon City. Arcellana was an author, poet, teacher, essayist, critic and journalist.

He was declared a National Artist in 1990. He is considered one of the most important progenitors of the modern Filipino short story in English. He pioneered the development of the short story as a lyrical prose-poetic form. He was born on Sept. 6, 1916 in Sta. Cruz, -Manila. He went to elementary and high schools in Tondo, Manila, and completed a PhB. degree at the University of the Philippines in 1939. He was a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in Creative Writing, 1956-1957, at the University of Iowa, which offered the most prestigious creative writing program in the United States. He was one of the pioneers of the influential writers’ group The Veronicans, 13 pre-war writers whose aim was, according to Fr. Herbert Schneider, SJ of Ateneo, “to make their writing bear the imprint of the Face of the Philippines.”

Arcellana joined the faculty of the UP Department of English and Comparative Literature in 1953. He began as an instructor, rising through the hierarchy until he became a top-ranking professor in 1982, after which his tenure was extended. He was appointed Professor Emeritus in July of 1983. Journalism was another of his pursuits. He worked his way up from transcriber to Manila bureau manager at the International News Service, was an editor of the Sunday supplement of The Manila Chronicle, became the adviser of The Philippine Collegian in the  ’50s, in the late  ’60s and then from 1974 to 1977. Arcellana was one of the bulwarks of the UP writing program from the  ’70s on into the  ’90s. One of his most distinguished achievements was his appointment as the first and founding director of the UP Creative Writing Center in June 1979, a position he held for three and a half years. Fellows at the UP’s annual writing workshops remember him as a stringent critic with a sharp eye for craftsmanship and a steady supply of witty gibes. Arcellana pioneered and helped keep alive the experimental tradition in Philippine fiction. He viewed fiction as something “that is able to render truth, that is able to present reality.” Particularly conscious of language issues among Filipinos, he expressed the fusion of Tagalog, English and the other regional -languages in a writer’s consciousness in terms of a “two- or even three-tongued beast.”

UP Professor Amelia Lapena Bonifacio noted in her introduction to The Francisco Arcellana Sampler (1980): “It (was) his signature — one sensitive Filipino writer, by force of historical circumstance, grappling with a borrowed language and succeeding into whipping it to his own desired malleability.” His work has been collected in Selected Stories (1992), Poetry and Politics: The State of Original Writing in English in the Philippines Today (1977), and The Francisco Arcellana Sampler (1980), which brought together some of his most representative stories, poetry and essays. 

Arcellana left a wife, UP political science Prof. Emerenciana Yuvienco-Arcellana, and six children: Francisco Jr., Elizabeth, Jose, Mayi, Juaniyo and Emerenciana II, 17 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. The UP Creative Writing Center will host a tribute to him on Aug. 16 at the UP main library. --by Lakambini A. Sitoy 

Copyright 2006 by Alberto S. Florentino; all rights reserved.




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