Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like...

This is my column today, November 8 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

Forget about nippy mornings because as we all know, weather patterns have not been as predictable lately. Forget about being cheered by Christmas carols playing on the radio because the remakes of those old carols and the supposedly new songs that are being passed off as Christmas tunes just do not create that old feeling—in fact some are bound to create the opposite effect. You feel like strangling the composer and the singer. And it’s not just the rapping and the grating and the screaming that is being passed off as music. It’s the general thesis behind the new songs or the new renditions of those old carols—everyone seems to have been jilted or swindled or just in dire need of a sex slave.

We know Christmas is just around the corner because everyone who stands to profit from it has been reminding us endlessly, shamelessly and in very unmistakably obvious ways of it. They’ve taken ads, hung streamers, clipped flyers on your windshields, hired someone to call you on your phone to tell you about their Christmas offer, etc. The only thing they haven’t done is invade your dreams and the only reason they haven’t done that is because technology has not advanced that far yet.

The newscasts have their countdowns (47 days to go before Christmas!), the department stores shove Christmas decors and various material things at our faces, everyone is hawking giveaways and promos. What is supposed to be a meaningful season has just become so darned commercial. Christmas has become synonymous with mass-scale spending and profligacy. It is very sad that many of the traditions that make Christmas something to look forward to every year are fast disappearing and that it looks like kids today are growing up with a very different perspective of what the season is supposed to be.

I realized the Christmas season was definitely here because earnest appeals for help for new and creative ideas for themes, contests, and games for Christmas parties have started to appear more frequently in various human resource management e-mail groups. Yes, even the way we celebrate Christmas has now given way to more commercial considerations. Parties cannot simply be about sharing the spirit of the season together—they have to be creative, they have to appeal to a wider range of interests and demographics, they have to be more memorable than last year’s or better than those of our competitors. Sigh.

Thus, human resource management people have to come up with the most unusual themes and concepts that often do not have anything to do with the season to begin with (e.g. Halloween at Christmas?). And we have to accommodate various political, cultural, social, religious considerations.

This reminds me of a story in an e-mail I read last year that really got me laughing so hard. That e-mail begun with a memo from a company’s HR manager announcing the theme, date, venue and other details of the annual Christmas party. A second e-mail was hastily released to explain that the holding of the party was not in any way meant to discriminate against employees who were not Christians and will therefore not be called a Christmas party anymore, but a simple gathering. A third e-mail hastily announced that out of respect for vegetarians, a vegetarian’s table would be set up. And another e-mail specified where the halal food would be placed for Muslims who want to participate. And a fifth one clarified which tables will be for recovering alcoholics. And yet another e-mail… and so on and so forth. I think the last e-mail was supposed to have announced the cancellation of the party and the resignation of the HR manager. You get the drift.

I understand why we have to respect diversity and try to respond to the needs of a wide range of interests. But what I do not get are Christmas decorations that do not have anything to do with Christmas.

Take for example those lanterns in the shape of flowers and fruits that adorn our streets during this season of reflection and sharing. In the spirit of the season, let’s not go anymore into the embarrassing questions such as why they have to be on every street lamp, why they have to be that huge, or if those things really cost that much. The money for the personal Christmas shopping of our local executives’ relatives has to come from somewhere you know, wink, wink.
But, pray tell, what have those lanterns got to do with Christmas? I was driving along Roxas Boulevard and Taft Avenue yesterday and I noticed that workers were already putting up colorful lanterns that are supposed to put people in a Christmas mood but work better at reminding us of summer.

They are giant gumamelas (hibiscus) for crying out loud! At least they are not in the shape of tulips or roses, a friend who was with me quipped. Mayor Atienza, sir, I know you like flowers and that it seems your love of them is so great and cannot be contained by simply wearing those shirts, but can we take a break from this long year-round Panagbenga festival in Manila during Christmas? Or at the very least, can they be in the shape of poinsettias?

And what is with these Christmas decors in colors that are best worn on Holy Week or to a little girl’s birthday party?

I know there is no accounting for taste, but I still have to find out why anyone would want to have a Christmas tree decked with Christmas balls and ribbons in purple, yellow, blue or black. Or why anyone would like to buy a black Christmas tree to begin with. If one is not in the mood to celebrate the season, I think a more logical course of action would be not to have a tree. But it seems there is a market out there for these inanities because practically all department stores I go to sell them.

This is a cliché; yes, it is trite and outworn but I hope that as we get dragged into the frenzy of buying presents and partying and stuffing ourselves to the gill, we also try to make a conscious decision to remember what the season is supposed to be about.

There is a reason why it is called Christmas. And there is a reason why it is supposed to be a big deal. I hope we do not lose sight of them. Now go buy those purple and pink Christmas balls for your color-coordinated Christmas tree if you must.

6 comments:

em said...

Yep, Christmas is beyond the twinkling lights and lanterns... it's more than the decorations we see on the streets. it's not something that is external that makes one feel the season. For me, Christmas happens within, and it is powerful enough to change lives. It is a "thrill of hope..." ;p

snglguy said...

Hehe, I recieved that same story in my e-mail last year and it got me laughing hard as well. I'm glad people here are not as anal about political correctness with regards to Christmas celebrations, yet. :-D

Anonymous said...

Hi Bong! You're making me smile again.
Yes it's here, you can smell it in the nippy mornings (at least here in the province, guess not in MManila). Our tree was put up the weekend after all saints' day due to the unrelenting request of the youngest in the family (she's 7), the older ones almost couldn't care less. When I asked them to put up the tree with me and the littlest, they obliged by taking the decors out, dumping them next to me, hanging an ornament or two, then disappearing to their rooms. Now where is the spirit, I ask? It didn't use to be like this when they were smaller. Yes the meaning has been lost to too much commercialism. Us parents stil try hard to drive the real meaning but we get drowned out by the commercial noise and mediocrity, Sigh. How to get the old meaning out again?
Anyway, one thing i'm firm about, my tree will only carry the colors green, red and gold, I don't care if these kids say their mom is too boring, just don't let me hear it.
And gumamela ornaments? At least in my hometown, they're in the shape of parols!
Ciao. MommyJo

vic said...

Yeah, It's beginning to look a lot like - but we must all remember above all these hooplas, whatever, and however Christmas originated, there are thousands and thousands of Children whose Christmas means magic to them if only there is one little gift for each and everyone ot them. For adults who make a big deal about it skip it this year and donate a gift to a child who otherwise wouldn't have a gift from Santa this Christmas.

Jerome aka Bridget Jones said...

bong, its our 2nd year together. i sang for him. :-)

NRT said...

I still have to find out why anyone would want to have a Christmas tree decked with Christmas balls and ribbons in purple, yellow, blue or black. Or why anyone would like to buy a black Christmas tree to begin with.

Because they simply like them? When I first encountered a black tree in 2004, I thought it was the best thing I'd ever seen. ;)
Displaying the items you mention doesn't mean someone doesn't celebrate the season.

However, you'll be glad to know that as an atheist who doesn't acknowledge the festival of commercialism, I don't have a tree or baubles of any colour. ;)