Jose Mari Chan smiles during an interview at his mother's home in Muntinlupa City. Alfredo Ruzol, ABS-CBN News
Culture Music

They don’t play ‘Christmas in our Hearts’ at home, and other Joe Mari Chan revelations

Mr. Songwriter on how he keeps  fit, how he keeps pandemic anxiety at bay, and how Christmas will be different at the Chan home this year
ANCX | Sep 01 2020

For some reason, those who usually find Joe Mari Chan memes annoying seem forgiving of the internet tradition this year. Could it be because, considering the general atmosphere, we do need Tito Joe’s positive vibes more than ever? And don’t we all need Christmas 2020 to come early to shower us with some much-needed happy dust? 

Which is what he gave the One PH talk show, Wag Po!, last night. In a Zoom interview, Chan clearly had fun with the all-male inquisitors: Lourd de Veyra, Patrick Paez, Ed Lingao, Manny Mogato, Melvyn Calderon and Jove Francisco. One of the questions they asked Joe: “Pag Christmas Day ho ba anong Christmas carol tinutugtog sa bahay niyo?” 

“They don’t play ‘Christmas in our Hearts,’” revealed the songwriter, laughing. What they usually play at home, he said, are Christmas songs by the The Carpenters, Johnny Mathis, Four Aces and Ray Conniff—this is music, he says, that his children grew up with. 

The Chans usually spend Christmas morning together, opening gifts, bonding the entire day before going to mass. But with the world situation this year, and with three kids who already have their own families, (two other kids live with Joe and wife Mary Ann), the celebration might be different. “I told them we could Zoom together and then maybe we could sing!” he said, never wavering on the positivity. 

“I try always to be happy,” Joe offered. “You know, pleasure is for the moment. Nice meal? [That’s] Pleasure. But happiness is longer lasting. It’s an attitude. I have a lot of problems in my business, so much competition. But I say, never mind. I just do my best.” 

The 75-year old doesn’t like being called a “sugar baron,” by the way, although he runs the sugar business Binalbagan Isabela Sugar Co. He says he only inherited the mill from his father. Running the business usually takes him to Negros every week. “There are many people who are multi-millionaires who are not happy. Why? Because they are not content.” 

Another reason for his supply of happiness is his wife. “It’s very important to have the right partner in life,” he said. “We have differences but at the end of the day, we love each other.” There was just that one time they didn’t agree on her opinion on his classic “Can We Just Stop and Talk Awhile?” She said it won’t be a hit; the title is too long! Of course, she was eventually proven wrong. “From that time on I don’t ask for her opinion anymore,” he joked. Joe and Mary Ann have been together for 50 years now. 

Of course, the interview won’t be complete without talking about the reason for the season: “Christmas in our Hearts.” The song really started as a poem, “Ang Tubig ay Buhay” by a college contemporary who wanted him to set it to music—to be used for a high school silver jubilee. In 1990, he decided to use the melody and turn it into a Christmas song for a Christmas album. When his record producers heard it, they asked if he had a romantic Christmas song instead. “It sounds like a Christian song, Hindi tutugtugin ng radyo,” he said, recalling his producer’s words. 

The song is now 30 years and remains the official Christmas anthem of the Philippines, whether some people like it or not. He gets endorsement deals because of it—Shopee, for one, just renewed his contract. He said he never expected the song to become as big as it got. 

But over the years he’s gotten used to the attention. And the memes. “Nasanay na,” he said. “But they keep using the same pictures!” is his only complaint. His favorite meme? The one where he’s shown stretching, preparing for the onslaught of the ‘ber months. Although he says his body is more frail now than how the meme portrays it. The only exercise he does is brisk walking on the treadmill every morning for 45 minutes.

If that’s how he keeps his body healthy, how does he keep his mind sane—especially in this pandemic? “I don’t want to sound too serious but we go to mass everyday. We hear mass online everyday. That keeps our sanity. In this time of uncertainty, this time of anxiety, we have to be grounded on our faith. We have to have a strong faith that everything will be alright.” 

Finally, Lourd de Veyra asked what advice he would like to give Filipinos who will be facing a different Christmas this year. 

“You know the lives of Filipinos revolve around the family,” he begins. “Our family is our support. When things go wrong, we go back to our family, to our parents, to our siblings, to our grandparents. So the essence of Christmas—it’s very important to strengthen your ties with your family. Kung may differences, be ready to forgive and to accept. This Christmas willl be meaningful if you can be together. Take out all the hurt.“