HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated December 26, 2010 12:00 AM
There is the monumental traffic that is already part and parcel of our lives as Metro Manila residents, which doubles or triples in density during Christmastime, making our lives unmanageable. There is the mad rush to shop and spend on gifts that often are given more as an obligation than something that comes from the heart. There is also the never-ending stream of parties and socials, the non-stop eating and merrymaking that are really not always merry.
Sometimes there is this obligation to enjoy or at least to appear like you are having a great time. Lastly, there is the assault of bad carolers who knock on your gate and belt out Christmas carols that sound more like My Way’ evoking homicidal tendencies more commonly found in murder-prone videoke bars.
Christmas has become such a struggle for me that I have largely dropped out of it psychologically these past few years. The whole idea seems put-on. The crass materialism of it upsets me. For quite sometime now, I have stopped giving gifts except to people I am really close to, and then again, not even always. I give material gifts only when I am moved to do so, and to people who I know would really appreciate them.
But before you think that every recent Christmas has been miserable, I have had a number of Christmas moments these past few years that I should maybe look at more closely and adopt as a tradition for the years to come. To counteract the mindless shopping, eating and other clichés of the season, it is instructive to go back to Christmases past, salvage memories from here and there and fashion new Christmas traditions.
To be sure, I still celebrate Christmas with family and
that always feels great. (Actually, any get-together with my family is always fun). And that is one of the few reasons why Christmas still means anything to me. Our Christmas is a combination of enjoying family bonding with bold strokes of creativity and humor thrown in. My brother Raffy, for example, makes it a point to gift each of us siblings with cheap presents that get a lot of comedic bang for the measly bucks he spends.
One time, I got a “Manoling Morato for President” pin that he found in some curio shop. It was such a ridiculous present, it had me laughing all evening, and even now when I think about it.
When I think of Christmas when I was a kid, I recall many wonderful moments. We were a middle class family who had just enough resources to share among ourselves, the household help and a few friends who were considered part of our extended family.
Yet, our house was open to everyone and somehow, there was always something for every person who visited. There was magical abundance amid the limited resources.
When I was growing up, my mom and the school I went to impressed upon me the spiritual aspect of Christmas, which shaped the season for me. The making of the belen, for one, was something special. The bed of baby Jesus at the start of Advent would have no straws at all to soften it. For every good deed, a kind word or action, a sacrifice, etc. that we did through the course of the day, we were entitled to put one straw on the bed.
To a young boy, it was a mission to make sure that Baby Jesus’s bed was ready by the evening of the 24th. It was great spiritual preparation that made Christmas special. The eve of Christmas was a culmination of all our excitement and mindful preparation. It made me feel that I had made the world a better place and thus could rightly share the goodwill I felt towards all men.
The few Christmases my family has spent in Sydney have also had their special moments. Two years ago, we had around eight families celebrate Dec. 25 with us in our home. We had the kids draw lots that assigned them the roles they would play in the Christmas tableau. They had to improvise on the spot with costumes to play their designated characters as shepherds, wise men, angels, animals, the Holy Family, etc. It was fun, creative, interactive and memorable. The kids enjoyed it to the hilt.
After dinner, we all got together in the terrace to sing Christmas carols amid candlelight. The highlight was when we sang what seems to have become the quintessential Pinoy migrants’ Christmas song, Pasko Na Sinta Ko. Not a dry eye could be seen anywhere.
It was quite a moment as we remembered the people we love back home even as we basked in the warmth of new friendships made in our new abode.
So many gifts are given and received during Christmas. And yes, it is great to receive gifts at any age even if the thrill gets less as one grows older. The gifts I remember most are those that were given with some thought — things that answered a need or something I liked which I knew the giver paid attention to.
There are also the gifts that the giver has spent some time making, like handmade crafts, food, etc., that make them special. Such gifts are particularly appreciated since they have that element of time and effort (not just money) that went into them.
Lydia likes giving gifts that she spends time on. Sometimes, she buys generic stuff that she personally decorates with paint, glitter and other elements that make them unique and special.
I guess what I am yearning for is a spirit of renewal, a celebration of life, the joy of being with loved ones, the spirit of heartfelt giving and gracious receiving.
These are what produce the magical glow that Christmas can bring which no item bought from a mall, tiangge or can give. Things like iPad, new shirts, and gizmos are great to receive, but by themselves, they do not make Christmas. Not for me. They are all incidental to the feast, side stories that many have mistaken for the main narrative.
The real challenge for modern man living in a thoroughly commercialized world is to make sure that the Christmas checklist includes not just the gifts and the parties but also the following: the family “moment,” community sharing especially with the less fortunate, a spiritual connection with the original Christmas message, the giving of oneself, and the gracious acceptance of others (including strangers) during the Christmas banquet and the rest of the year.
By focusing on such intangibles, we might find that we can enjoy Christmas, regardless of good or bad economic times, because we have traditions that make it meaningful.
There is something depressing but beautiful about how many people feel at this time of the year. “Christmas is a time when you get homesick — even when you’re home,” someone wrote. Some call it ennui. But I think it is the desire for authenticity, a return to what feels true which is heightened amid the commercial frenzy that has taken over Christmas.
To allow the true meaning of Christmas to emerge and rise above meaningless commercial exchange, it might be useful to pay heed to traditions such as those I have listed. To be conscious of the meaning of Christmas means to care a lot for others.
A writer, Hamilton Wright Mabie, expressed the spirit of the season so aptly: “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!”
Spread the love!