Taking back Christmas

Taking back Christmas
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 23, 2012 – 12:00am

Most of the world celebrates Christmas even if the season means different things to different people, societies and cultures. We are aware that throughout Europe and all areas of the world that have been Christianized at one time, there is great celebration everywhere. Even in some Arab societies, the yuletide season is evident in malls and other places, most likely because of their Christian populations. But I have heard of Muslims who do something special on Christmas day like hold family dinners, or exchange gifts, as they go along with the good cheer that pervades all over the world.

The ambassador of Christmas in these non-Christian parts of the world is Santa Claus. Children are mesmerized by this obese man with a long white beard and a positive demeanor who rides a sleigh pulled by reindeers and delivers gifts to people everywhere. It is quite a compelling image actually, and so wondrously magical for Christians and non-Christians alike.

In the Christian world, the attention is focused on both Jesus and Santa, although more and more, Santa seems to be defining Christmas for a great many people. This is brought about by secularization and materialism that is shaping the world.

In my own childhood, the story of the birth of Jesus and Santa’s gift giving were both present, although I felt the Jesus angle more than the Santa one. We were 10 in the family –– middle class, Catholic with few resources. Thus, Christmas was more about the advent wreath and the spiritual preparations that went with the season like Simbang Gabi, the Belen, family get-togethers, noche buena and caroling. The food we enjoyed during the season was better than what we had the rest of the year, with oranges, apples, grapes, ham, cakes and pies on the table. We had cards or gifts for everyone. Often, we made the Christmas cards and gifts ourselves. As I said, we had meager resources but that certainly was no hindrance to our enjoyment of Christmas. It was great family time and it was always fun. And I felt a lightness of spirit, a connection to the child in the manger and its spiritual dimension.

At the same time, I enjoyed the gifts that were strewn my way by relatives, ninongs and yes, Santa, whoever he really was.

I have seen Christmas change through the years. Perhaps it is a function of having gotten older, or because we have moved up the social ladder and are now a bit more affluent. But these days whether for the rich or not so rich, Christmas has come to mean endless traffic, runaway expenses, acquisitions, lots of useless gifts received, binge drinking and partying, and endless social obligations.

All these result in physical exhaustion and a depletion of yuletide cheer and joy. Gone is the rejuvenating spirit that used to light up the holidays. There are actually people who anticipate the season with some anxiety, wishing they could just get it over with. To them, Christmas has lost much of its wonder and meaning. I myself have actually expressed the opinion that perhaps, as a society, we should celebrate Christmas only every other year, if only to be relieved of the debilitating traffic that steals the Christmas spirit from everyone.

There is more and more of this materialistic frenzy in the season’s celebrations rather than the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. In my view, too much of the materialism and too little of the spiritual gifts of the season is what brings the ennui and depression that many fall into during the Christmas season.

I decided a few Christmases ago that I would stop succumbing to the call of the malls and instead listen to the bells of good cheer and universal love. I simply stopped fretting over the obligatory gifts and numerous parties that social pressure foists upon everyone. Instead, I decided to take on a happy disposition, attend a few parties, give quietly and anonymously to some charities, and set aside a few gifts for people I am close to.

It is my way of getting Christmas back. And so far, it has worked for me. I will spend for plane tickets to get the family together and to have those special bonding moments. These are gifts that allow family time to happen and make everyone closer to each other as we celebrate a meaningful Christmas. It allows us to celebrate our love for each other and strengthen family ties. The memories created will live beyond the thrill of the new must-have gadgets or whatever material gift I may lust for. In place of that, we enjoy the special moments of Simbang Gabi and an intimate time at home as we feast on much anticipated food prepared with love and care by family members.

One might describe this as a conscious awakening to discover the Christmas spirit and cheer. I get into the mood of it because I summon the mood. I do not rely so much on the outward environment to put me in the proper feeling. And I try not to be focused on an ideal Christmas. I accept every Christmas as it is. There are times when it is a season of plenty, and other times when it requires a more modest celebration. But what really counts is I can share whatever I have with family and friends.

This Christmas, may you and your family have a share of both Jesus and Santa. But may you have more of Jesus to bring you closer to one another as you appreciate the joy that He has brought to the world.

From my loved ones to yours, have a blessed Christmas!