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Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for December 22nd, 2007

The paradox of Christmas 5

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.

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