HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated December 20, 2009 12:00 AM
I must confess I am one of those who feel ambivalent towards the whole season of Christmas. The traffic, the frenzy of Christmas parties, the shopping, big expenses, the mindless commercialism and materialistic orgy that it has become and the increased noise level everywhere often get to me and disturb my routine and my peace.
I am not really a party animal. I don’t even drink, save for a beer or a glass of wine that lasts me the whole night. A good, noisy party once in a while is okay, but please, not the three or more parties in a week that the current season brings. Neither am I an enthusiastic shopper like my wife. My tolerance level in a mall is one hour, max.
I like my quiet time and miss it a lot when I don’t get it. Thus, my lack of enthusiasm during the Christmas season which has become less of a festivity and more of an imposition, an obligation lacking in meaning. Sometimes, it is more like an assault especially when I hear the monstrosity of “discofied” versions of Silent Night and Hark the Herald Angels Sing on radio and TV and in commercial areas. Do I sound like the Grinch?
Many people I know feel the same way. I often think that if Christmas could be celebrated once every two or three years, it would be just right and appropriate. It would be more along my pace.
Which is why I have begun to try and rethink Christmas and how to survive it year after year.
In the past few years, I have been on the lookout for what I call “Christmas moments.” This is when I go out of my way to try to deliberately spread true Christmas cheer by way of sincere, unexpected and voluntary giving.
A few nights back, I was stuck in a traffic light when a young girl no more than 11 years old came up to my car, knocked on my window and showed me the sampaguita garlands she was selling. In the past, on occasion, I would buy some, but normally I would just knock back to signify that I was not interested. This time, however, I took pause and looked at the seller’s face. I don’t know why but I just felt empathy seeing someone so young who had to hawk flowers late in the evening.
I brought out P50 and asked her for P20 worth of sampaguita. She politely explained to me that she only had P10 change and proceeded to get P40 worth of flowers to give to me. At that point, I took the flowers she gave me, got one strand, and gave her back the rest. I told her that it was all I wanted. In short, I gave her P50 for something much less in value and wished her a Merry Christmas. Her face beamed. Her smile said it all. Something in her face spelled a special moment. I saw gratitude and hope in my fellowman (or girl, as the case may be). Me? I felt my eyes welling up as I drove away.
Last Sunday, my immediate family was home together. Everyone arrived from Sydney the night before for a Manila Christmas. We have not spent Christmas here in three years. It was no surprise therefore that everyone felt good to be together at dinner. I could tell that my granddaughter Ananda was especially thrilled. She somehow knew it was an extraordinary moment, perhaps because the house was all lighted up and everyone was feeling happy and aglow.
To further amplify the occasion for her, I brought out my iPod and speaker and played Christmas carols. My daughter Ala and I upped the ante some more by engaging Ananda in a dance. Like children, we jumped, swayed, shuffled, pirouetted ourselves silly, which only made Ananda more animated. We danced and laughed for about 45 minutes. It was a great, fun and silly time, but I knew it was a moment that my granddaughter would remember for a long time. It will probably be part of her primal memories of Christmas. I just know that last Sunday evening was a wonderful gift we had given her.
Ala is thinking of doing volunteer work with some NGO while she is here on a visit. My other daughter Erica has thought up a gift-giving gimmick by asking her friends to donate things to fill shoe boxes for the victims of typhoon Ondoy. The contents are not the usual canned goods but stuff like shirts, and other useful things that will make the recipient feel that he or she is opening not another package of relief goods but a real Christmas present.
I am glad that they are somehow getting past the materialism and the hardcore partying that the holidays seem to mean for many young people.
A familiar line one hears during Christmas is that “it is better to give than to receive.” Although I believe it, I notice that it is easier to say it than to practice it. And sometimes, I still need convincing that it is true. Peyton Conway March, an American military officer, put it another way: “There is a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most in life — happiness, freedom, and peace of mind — are always attained by giving them to someone else.”
The idea, therefore, if one is to survive Christmas with sanity and good cheer intact, is to make something of Christmas for one’s self and avoid the ennui that the materialism of Christmas brings. And that is done by giving to others, even if one’s motive for doing so are to feel good about Christmas. “Selfish” motives notwithstanding, it’s more than just giving that happens when one gives. More than the simbang gabi, a Christmas moment for me is one where I see another person as myself, and thus my very giving to him or her opens me to my own spirituality. It does not matter whether the motivation was emotional, or whatever else. The important thing is to not say “no” to the Christmas moment when it moves you.
This early, I am already thinking of being less random and more methodical about opening myself to more of these Christmas moments throughout 2010. I intend to commit to a charity or an NGO that will offer me ample opportunities to give of my time and self. And I am doing this while the spirit is moving me at the moment. If I can do this, I can stop feeling that Christmas should be just a once-every-two-or-three-year event. Perhaps it is what I need to look forward to Christmas every day of my life.