When September 1 officially made it to the calendar earlier this year, one of my classmates sent me a message bearing the words:
At first, this merited a bewildered look: Knowing that the world celebrates Christmas at more or less the same date with the Philippines being of no exception, I surmised that somehow he could have been pushed over the edge by a fit of overexcitement, or has lost track of the time, or both. Little did I know that like him, millions of people have also marked the start of the much-anticipated hype, the great countdown.
One doesn’t easily forget that in a country where the mere mention of “Christmas” generates endless connotations, the celebration starts with the onset of the “-ber” months. And that’s a feat no other special holiday or occasion can ever beat. You hear Christmas carols being played on the radio even before petitions for souls of the departed are requested, and you see shoppers juxtaposing lists of lanterns and decors with Halloween costumes. Even the perennial Scrooges of our times start to show a potential for niceties once the mood turns up on sleigh rides and winter wonderlands. For most people I know, Christmas is a festival of epic proportions, no doubt; and it’s supposed to get bigger and grander every year.
I’ve been observing quite the contrary, though. As much as it is hard to admit, signs of the season have become harder to come by year after year. Slick traces remain of the once ostentatious interplay of lights and trees, and the melody of Christmas carols fail to reach their typical ubiquitous state. Even the so-called materialism, the superficiality moralists and clergy are forever going against, isn’t working out as well as expected. Storeowners groan of aching losses as the lure of brisk December sales loses its usual touch, with shoppers carefully sticking to a tightly-screwed budget. On top of these, one can’t help but contract a portion of the lingering dreariness. Or if feeling gloomy deep down isn’t bad enough, you hear people say, “It’s not like being Christmas”, or “I don’t feel Christmassy at all”.
The year 2006 is hard hit especially. If you have a bunch of super-typhoons perpetually striking various parts of the archipelago (and leaving some areas dreadfully battered) and tragically amplified by a series of volcanic activities and socio-political crises, you also have people persistently harboring misgivings on whether the whole Christmas thing is such a good idea after all. Is 365 days of unwanted misfortune really a valid excuse to keep the Yuletide spirit at the sidelines for a while?
Well here’s the catch: The first Christmas wasn’t perfect either. As our parish priest explained during his homily on Christmas Eve, “the first Noel came at a time when the world was in turmoil, marked by wars and general unrest. It is precisely this imperfection, the presence of a void in people’s hearts that made the arrival of a Savior very timely.” Come to think of it, what need would there be for a Messiah when everything is in place, when the world is so engrossed in its flawlessness?
It is when we realize that something is missing, and duly acknowledge such a fact, that we begin to discover what Christmas is truly about. I have classmates whose homes are right smack in the so-called typhoon hot spots, and though at present electricity continues to be a thing of the not-so-distant past, this didn’t stop them from being part of the most wonderful time of year. I guess far more important than having the physical means to eat, drink and make merry is to possess the right spirit for it.
Which is why I prefer to celebrate Christmas the way it should be – simple and with the ones you love. We had the traditional Noche Buena and gift exchange before attending the highlighted midnight mass, finally capping the night with a short prayer. And it just occurred to me that sometimes, the best way to feel blessed is to believe that right here, right now, in our midst is the most wonderful time of year, no less.