Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

The paradox of Christmas

Posted on December 22, 2007 by jimparedes

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas means different things to different people. To the young and innocent, it means a time of wonder and of wonderful things. I remember what it was like in my very early years — the house transformed into a merry place with buntings and glittery décor; a real Christmas tree gave out a pine scent that wafted all through the house; and there were gifts to expect on the 25th of December. As a kid, I felt that Christmas was a magical time, and like Clement Mark Moore described it, I actually had “visions of sugarplums” dancing in my head.

There were also Simbang Gabi, parols and carolers. In our house, there was lots of singing amid a warm family feeling especially at Christmastime. Even if we did not have a hearth, we felt the warmth of family love pervading our home, scented by different foods, particularly my mom’s Hermits, fruit and nut-laden cookies that she lovingly baked to give away for friends and relatives during the season.

The start of Advent began the big build-up to the Big Day. In school and at our house, there was a strong, holy and spiritually mysterious dimension about Christmas. In school, we would listen in rapt attention to stories about Mary being visited by an angel and how they ended up in a stable where Christ was born in a manger one starry Christmas night.

At home, my mom encouraged us to make sacrifices like cleaning our rooms, not fighting, being kind to people, and for each sacrifice we made, we could put one piece of straw on the manger. The goal was to have enough straws to make the manger soft enough for Baby Jesus to lie on by the morning of December 25. I really thought then (as I do now) that this was such a great idea. Now, as an adult, I still do this but only mentally. I tried to get this tradition going in my own family but alas, for some reason, it did not catch on. The lure of the season’s material attractions was just too strong and distracting.

These days, Christmas has such a different feel to it. The bright lights of the malls have dimmed the Christmas star, and the screaming appeal of new toys and gadgets has taken over the more spartan, heartwarming spirit of the Christmases of my youth. The endless round of office parties, traffic, the frenzied shopping and the huge expenses make many wary and weary during yuletide season. Christmas, with all the aggravation associated with it, has become a season of stress.

More and more, I hear people say every year that they do not feel the Christmas spirit anymore. I myself have felt at times that Christmas should perhaps just be celebrated every two years so that it does not lose its novelty.

I actually do not stress over Christmas. I refuse to. I do not feel the need to go out of my way and be politically correct and have presents for everybody. What stresses me out is the fact that my wife frets about so many things such as the Christmas decorations for the house, the endless Christmas shopping she feels she needs to get done for friends and relatives, parties, Noche Buena, Simbang Gabi attendance, and a host of other things.

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful that someone is making sure all these things are done. But by the time it’s Christmas Eve, she sometimes feels too tired to enjoy it.

Maybe all this preparation is just a girl thing. Or maybe I am just a killjoy. But I can’t help but feel that for a great many people living in urban, commercialized places, Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. In fact, it doesn’t have to be this way.

In place of the peace promised by the birth of Christ, we have frenzy and stress. In place of the simplicity of the manger story, we have commercial greed and waste. In place of the mystery of God coming to mankind as a lowly, humble being born in a manger, we have excess and extravagance.

And the worst part of all is that, in place of the true meaning of Christmas, which is the birth of Jesus, we have celebrations in many parts of the world where Jesus is nowhere to be found. In many places in the Western world, Christmas is now “Xmas” or the “Yuletide Season,” and in place of the spiritual commemoration is “the season to be jolly” that brings on rich foods and alcohol. The stories of Santa, Rudolf, Frosty, Disney characters and other party animals are what the original Christmas story has become. Christmas has been hijacked.

In the plane on my way to Sydney two nights ago, I reflected on what kind of Christmas I would like to have this year. Surely, I will enjoy the gaiety of the season, and the company of my family and friends. I will also enjoy the few gifts I may receive or even give to myself and others. But I thought I’d also allow myself to immerse in other meanings and activities as well.

If Christmas never happened, mankind would probably invent something similar. Why? Because the story of one being who can unite mankind with the spirit of peace and joy is a universal yearning. In this age of religious, cultural and actual wars, excessive greed and materialism and the onset of something so dire as global warming that can put all of mankind under a devastating scourge, it is good to be reminded that amid the divisions that plague us all, there is within us the desire for the exact opposite — harmony and love, peace and a wish to send special positive feelings to everyone.

I would like to think that, as much as Christmas is a Christian event or celebration, it is a gift for the entire world as well. If only for the possibility that, somehow, people of all faiths will notice a kindness, or a lightness of feeling coming from the so-called Christian world and become touched by the kindness that the season seems to evoke, then the season would not be in vain.

So to the many who have been numbed by the stressfulness of Christmases past, I say it’s time to awaken to the spirit that is within us and allow compassion to flow. When we see someone in pain, let us share ourselves to help ease it. When we see someone in need, let us open our wallets. When we see loneliness in others or within ourselves, let us open our hearts to the song of liberation promised to us by the little child in the manger.

I believe that the big truths in life are paradoxical. Or to put it more simply, they appear to be the opposite of what the world says things are supposed to be. Take the case of the one who came to save us who was born, not through the lineage of the powerful and rich, but, of all places, in a manger. The weak shall inherit the earth. Or how about that one which says one must lose one’s self to gain the world? Christmas is rich in paradoxes.

We need not feel guilty if we enjoy the material bounty that Christmas brings. But let us also open ourselves to the intangible, unquantifiable, yet more lasting promise that Christmas brings. Let’s go for the complete experience where we have room for both the material and the spiritual.

Imagine this TV ad.

Visuals: Imagine yourself enjoying the warmth of family love over Noche Buena. Smiling, contented faces around you full of love and appreciation. Behind is a belen.

The caption reads, “The genuine joy of peace, promise and giving we feel for Christmas as we share with others the birth of Christ: Truly priceless. But for all the rest, there’s Visa!”

It’s just another one of those paradoxes of Christmas.

5 to “The paradox of Christmas”

  1. jeffc says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family!

  2. G & M & family says:

    Hi Jim,

    Merry Christmas to you and your family. Santa is still too busy to deliver your homemade fruitcake, ha!ha!

    Happy New Year 2008!

  3. Obet Dionisio says:

    Dear Jim,
    Welcome Back. I wish to share with your readers the “Tula” I wrote for Christmas. It has the same message as your blog entry. This was broadcast on SBS Radio Filipino Program last Friday, 21st. Dec. 2007, at 10:50 AM, with me “reciting”.

    Sa pagpasok pa lamang ng buwan ng Nobyembre
    Binibilang na ang araw hanggang bente-sinko ng Disyembre
    Ano-ano and ihahanda, bibilhin pagkat ito ang kostumbre
    Gastos kaliwa kanan kahit utang, ni walang sinkong linbre

    Ano nga ba itong panahon na ating ipinagdiriwang
    Ano nga ba itong araw na ating pinaghahandaan
    Parang hindi sapat ang taon, at tila my kakulangan
    Kundi magsasaya, mamimili sa darating na kapaskuhan

    Si Kristo Hesus ay minsan lamang ipinanganak
    Sa Kanyang pagsibol ang buong mundo ay nagalak
    Kahit Siya ay isinilang sa isang sabsabang payak
    Ngunit bakit tayo ngayon ang tampulan ay gayak

    Binibigyan ng pansin, kapanganakan ni Kristo
    Pagkat ito ang ang isinasaad sa Banal na Testamento
    Ngunit hindi kaya natin tunay na mapagtatanto
    At di nauunawaan ang mahalagang diwa ng Advento

    Di ba ang dapat paghandaan ay ang Kanyang pagbabalik
    Upang ating makamit ang pangakong buhay na hitik
    Di ba nais natin ay buhay na tiwasay at matahimik
    Walang sagabal, walang suliranin, at matatalim na tinik

    Ngunit paano nga ba ang pangarap ay ating makakamtam
    Kung ayaw harapin ang katungkulan sa iba ay walang pakialam
    Ang tama at nararapat ay wala sa isip at hindi alam
    Pagkat ang puso at damdamin ay sakbibi ng agam-agam

    Ako ay Kristiyano, pinamamarali at sinasabi sa lahat
    Di ba ito ay parang sarili mong banko ay binubuhat
    Kung tunay na ikaw ay Kristiyanong karapat-dapat
    Sa katotohanan ng buhay mo, ang iyong mata ay imulat

    Bago dumating si Hesus, ano ang sabi ni Bautista Juan
    Maglinis ng sarili at magsisi sa mga nagawang kasalanan
    Ngunit sa Kanyang pagbabalik na dapat paghandaan
    Ni hindi tayo nagtitika at nagpupunta sa kumpisalan

    Sa araw-araw matapos sa trabaho tayo ay manggaling
    Hindi kalilimutan ang mamili ng pasalubong at parating
    Pagdating ng Sabado at Linggo, lakad at pasyal pa rin
    Nalimutan nang magsimba upang ang Panginoon ay sambahin

    Ikaw ba ay nagpapasasa sa kasaganaang nalalasap
    Nabibili mo ang gusto, mga pagkaing masasarap
    Ngunit sumaisip ba sa iyong gising na pangangarap
    Marami tayong kababayan sa Pilipinas ay naghihirap

    Maliban sa kamag-anak, ikaw ba ay tumutulong
    Nag-aabuloy sa mahihirap ng pagkain at “datong”
    Kahit na kaunting halaga, sa buhay nila ay pang-agtong
    Parang daloy ng tubig at init ng apoy na pang-gatong

    (Ang Wika ni Kristo Hesus)

    Ang bigay pala para sa iyong mahihirap na kapuwa
    Ituturing kong para sa Akin ay iyo ngang ginawa
    Kung sa biyayang tinanggap mo, ikaw ay nagbigay awa
    Saka mo masasabing ikaw ay magandang halimbawa

    Ngunit kung sa buhay mo ang laging mong nasa isip
    Ay ang makamtam mo ang pansariling panaginip
    Di inalintana, pangangailagan ng mga abang kapatid
    Pagkatok mo sa Akin, ang pinto ay Aking ipipinid

    Sa Aking pagbabalik, ganito Kita titimbangin, susukatin
    Ang mabuti at masama mong gawa ay Aking susuriin
    Dapat mong mapagtanto, ang paghuhusga ay sa Akin
    Kung nagkulang ka, maiiwan ka sa impiyernong bangin

    Kaya sa dalawang buwan, bago matapos ang taon
    Sa Kanyang pagbabalik, ang iyong isipan ay ituon
    Gamitin ang Advento sa pagsunod sa Panginoon
    Baka sa buhay mo, ito na ang huling pagkakataon

    Ang pagsilang niya ay naganap na dito sa daigdig
    Ang paghandaan natin ay ang Kanyang pagbabalik
    Ang mga naaapi, mahihirap at aba ay ating itangkilik
    Punuin ang buhay natin ng pagmamahal at tunay na pagibig


  4. Mark Arienda-Jose says:

    Sorry to be the killjoy again but here’s the other side.

    “Piggybacking on existing cultural festivals was one way Christian churches spread their religion across Europe.”



    Merry Christmas and a Happy Saturnalia!!


    Mark Arienda-Jose

  5. mARIEVIC says:

    Maligayang pasko at Mapayapang Bagong Taon ang aking bati sa iyo at sa buo mong pamilya….. ang mga tradisyon at kustombre na ating kinagisnan ay mga paraan na dapat sana ay siya nating iiwan sa ating mga anak at apo, marapat na umpisahan natin ito habang may panahon., NGAYON ang DAPAT at hindi bukas, kung di mo uumpisahan sino sa palagay natin ang gagawa nito kundi tayon g nakadama ng kagandahan at kaligayahan ng mga tradisyon at kustombre…..

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