Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas presents

This is my column today, December 20, at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

If you are on the brink of having a nervous breakdown, going nuts trying to figure out how to complete your shopping list with barely six days to go before Christmas, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Going by the number of harassed people who are still converging in the malls and the tiangges (according to the household help who was in Divisoria yesterday, it is sheer bedlam out there), you are definitely in good company.

I still have to meet someone who can categorically declare that he or she is finally done shopping for gifts this year. The task seems daunting: choosing gifts, lining up to pay for the items, and wrapping them, and making sure the tags are correct. We all know how it goes. No matter how many times you check and recheck that darned list (assuming that you had a list in the first place), there is always someone, or worse, a number of your kith and kin who somehow slipped your memory this year. Worse, there is always that someone unexpected who pops up bearing a gift, and you find yourself obligated to reciprocate. Whoever was responsible for changing “gift-giving” to “gift exchanging” deserves to be condemned to a life of wrapping presents 24/7.

There was a time when wrapping presents, and keeping track of which gifts go to whom, was something that I relished. But in the last three years or so, I have delegated the task to the other people in the house. First, the volume of items to be wrapped has simply quadrupled as I got older. Consequently, what used to be fun has now become tedious and arduous. Second, wrapping gifts has transformed into an advanced art form that now requires huge amounts of mental, creative and physical effort. Not that I am lacking in any of these three (ahem); I just believe that there are more important things on which to spend effort.

How did it all get this complicated? I think that the commercialization of Christmas has really raised the bar in terms of what excites or pleases people today. Gifts do not only have to be unique or expensive, they also have to be packaged in ways that make people shriek with pleasure, or at the very least, smile.

Notwithstanding the increasing commercialization of the season, I must admit that this business of exchanging gifts does do wonders to the spirit. This early, I have received some truly delightful presents—some because they were from people I hardly expected to get presents from, and some because of the nature of the gift itself. I write about these in the hope that they will provide inspiration to others who are suffering the shopping equivalent of a writer’s block.

It seems fruitcakes have been replaced as the standard gift of the season. In Christmases past, I always ended up receiving more fruitcakes than the whole family could consume (to begin with, no one actually liked eating fruitcakes in my household). I swear on my grandmother’s grave that I never recycled fruitcakes as Christmas presents despite fair warning from friends that I was doing a major crime of breaking the so-called fruitcake chain. (The joke is that there are only 100 fruitcakes that get passed around at Christmas). I still have to get a fruitcake this year, but I have received more bottles of wine than I could consume during the season. Is red wine the new fruitcake? Of course, this is probably because people see me now as a grown up and thus eligible to pickle my liver with alcohol. And I am not complaining. At least, red wine is something that comes handy as a gift in any occasion (not just Christmas) and it does last longer than fruitcakes. So go ahead, bring them on.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. I am not sure if this is necessarily the case, but I have noted that instead of the usual bulky food baskets that invariably contained the same canned and bottled stuff (presumably ingredients for making fruit salad, spaghetti, and other standard Pinoy holiday fare) some people are becoming more creative and in the process more gift-recipient friendly. For instance, someone sent me a basket of stuff that would make a good appetizer course or a picnic fare: baguette and various spreads such as a collection of cheese, a jar of capers, a tin of anchovies, a bottle of pesto sauce, etc. Another basket contained a collection of organic stuff—from organic coffee and tea, mascovado sugar, etc. A friend told me someone sent him a basket of sauces for all kinds of Pinoy viands (there’s a basket I want to receive). I must take my hat off to the people who put together these baskets—they are not only creative and original, they actually make you feel valued.

And then there’s this new trend of giving native kakanin or local food specialties as Christmas presents. Someone sent me a box of barquillos straight from Iloilo (the box said so), another one sent in two dozens of Lucban longganiza still wrapped in newspaper but held together by a pretty ribbon. For a moment there, I was tempted to follow the inspiration and send an urgent SOS to my parents in Leyte to send some muron, which is chocolate suman that is made exclusively in my hometown; but I figured there was no need to share the stress with my aging parents. So I’ve stuck to presents straight from National Bookstore, good old dependable SM, and of course, the many tiangges that have sprouted around the Metropolis like mushrooms.

I hate to admit it, but one’s perspective about Christmas does change as one gets older. I now have profound understanding of the phrase “seeing Christmas through a child’s eyes.” I wish I could enjoy Christmas all over again the way I did when I was a child.

Sadly, someone has to tick off the names in the list and match these with the right presents, worry about planning and preparing the Christmas feast, and more importantly, keep track of the expense—the last one is more than enough to dampen any hope of being able to enjoy Christmas the way a child does. I don’t know if I should thank my lucky stars or weep over the missed opportunity, but I was spared the trouble of having to explain to my children the supposed painful truth about Santa Claus’ real identity. They just figured it out on their own, thanks to television and Christmas movies. I don’t know exactly when they figured it out. I have this sneaking suspicion that they were in on the big secret for the longest time but held off revealing their discovery to make sure they get exactly what they wanted for Christmas.

So in case you are suffering from frazzled nerves and aching limbs in a vain effort to imbibe and spread the spirit of the season, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

4 comments:

vic said...

Exchanging gifts is not my idea of Christmas. I receive gifts, mostly from my siblings, but usually they end up accumulated and ended up donated to Salvation Army years after. Clothes and more clothes. For giving I usually just send Cash to my brother and nephews and nieces in the Philippines and let them worry their own shopping. But for my Baby Sister and her Children in California (just transplanted last December) I do it on line and this year I give the family just one gift that is delivered today that everyone should enjoy, a 42 inch HD Plasma t.v.. No shopping, a few clicks there and then, and done. And the neighbors just keep coming with bottles of red wine, not even bother to giftwrap them, just for my mowing their lawns in summer and clearing their snow on winter, nice neighbors.

Merry Christmas, bong, and to all your Loved Ones. Enjoy and reminder to all, if you drink, don't drive. thanks..

snglguy said...

Heya Bong! Just dropped by to wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. :-)

BongA said...

Vic,
Merry Christmas and thank you for keeping me company throughout the year!

Bong

BongA said...

singleguy,
Merry Christmas to kith and kin!

bong