Rescuing the feeling of Christmas

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 15, 2013 – 12:00am

It usually happens. I am overcome by this depressing feeling during Christmastime. There’s this sadness that envelops me. It seems ironic that this should happen at this time since Christmas is supposedly the happiest time of the year.

The other day, I was listening to Christmas carols and I felt this wave of sadness, a sense of loss, come over me. Of what? I wasn’t sure. It could be that ghosts of Christmases past are sending a message. Perhaps it dates back to my childhood when I lost my father at the age of five and the feeling of the lonely Christmas that year still lingers subconsciously. I don’t really know.

Christmas traditions are observed two ways: the first, with Christian symbols and their meanings, and the other with gift-giving and hedonistic eating and drinking. Both traditions usually blend well together to make Christmas a special time for families, friends and even strangers.

Going back to what I felt the other day, I am not too sure I can pinpoint which tradition of Christmas was causing that “down” feeling. But it seems more secular than religious or spiritual to me.

Certain songs bring the feeling on. Tunes like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas sung by Luther Vandross, and An Evening in December by First Call can trigger the sadness.

I must admit that this emotional low with a touch of the dark is not all bad. It’s depressing, yes, but it is a depressingly beautiful feeling. I posted this feeling on twitter and got quite a few responses indicating that there are people who identify with it.

The feeling is so beautiful in its melancholia, it makes you want to utter a deep sigh. It has an element of peaceful, quiet acceptance, somewhere between sadness and a feeling of aloneness, that is felt in the moment.

Definitely, there is an accompanying sense of loss, and it is not always beautiful. The yin definitely has its yang. This year, that feeling of loss is more palpable than ever, and it has a face that I do not want to look at — the face of suffering.

It’s quite possible that all this is caused by the sense of loss I am still feeling since typhoon Yolanda struck. The destruction it wrought scarred me as a Filipino and a human being. Although I am not from any of the areas affected, I feel that a big part of what I call “home” has been severely damaged and changed irrevocably.

As a member of humanity, I have been rudely awakened to the realization that all the chatter about climate change has gone beyond scientific talking heads and is now unmistakably here. One can’t take comfort in the imagery and metaphor of a “Mother Earth” and all the goodness that it implies. Not anymore. She no longer nurtures and cares. It seems she may even have stopped loving her children.

Amid this backdrop of deprivation and suffering, songs that harken to “happy golden days” seem empty and inauthentic. The fuzzy feeling that some Christmas carols used to evoke has taken a bizarre, depressing twist. Boughs of holly, Christmas trees, reindeer and Santa seem terribly out of place. Even the cool weather of December which I always look forward to evokes only a chilly sadness knowing that many in the Yolanda-stricken areas do not have enough clothing to warm themselves. The cool weather, which used to be associated with comfort, joy and a nice cozy feeling is now associated with something life threatening.

I seriously ask myself these days how I can “rescue” Christmas for me and for those I feel compassion for. How do we get back the Christmas feeling?

A lot of companies have canceled their Christmas parties or have downsized them to very modest gatherings, setting aside the savings to give to those who need it more. It just seems inappropriate to spend all that money on partying, or on shopping sprees, or gorging on expensive food when so many suffer.

The situation practically invites us to turn to the religious/spiritual aspect of Christmas. For many, it will not be a Christmas of plenty. Noche Buena will consist of a few relief goods shared around a table or a mat on the floor that was spared by the storm.

With so little available materially, we cannot help but invoke the spirit of Christmas to fill the gap. But the austere spirit does not have to be a joyless one. We can give of ourselves, and it can be the most joyous feeling. I know people who will not be giving gifts this year. Instead, they are using the money to buy essential goods for the nameless who are starving and deprived. They are taking comfort and joy in being one with those who suffer.

People have been on a generous giving spree even before the typhoon, when the earthquake struck in Bohol. Every artist I know has donated at least one gig to help in fund-raising. Usually, December is a month of Christmas parties where entertainers and artists make good money. This year, however, with budgets diverted to relief and rehabilitation, there are few gigs left. Yet despite that, artists are giving generously of their time and talent to the bigger cause.

In this sense, this is a great opportunity to collectively experience a more authentic Christmas. It may be an unusually modest, stripped-down celebration with few material gifts, but there will be more space around the dining table for strangers who will not only be nourished physically by the food we offer, but also spiritually by the kindness we share.

The irony is, giving more will help us counter the sense of loss or the negativity we may be feeling. As the cliché goes, the more we give, the more we truly receive.

Perhaps, if we do this, the sadness may lift and we can again begin to enjoy the music of Christmas.

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