Monday, December 24, 2007

Finding meaning in the season

This is my column today. Merry Christmas everyone!

When did it all get so complicated?

I don’t claim to speak for all work drones and harassed parents out there, but this was an observation that has been top of mind in the last few days as I valiantly struggled to catch up with the Christmas rush.

I know, I know. This person who had been harping about how some strategic thinking on the part of our leaders could have saved this country from the many tragic events that had become a natural part of our existence waited until the last minute to do his Christmas shopping and organize his Christmas schedule. What can I say, whoever was responsible for spreading the proverbial Christmas cheer must have dropped me from the list this year. I just woke up one morning last week and realized Christmas was barely a few days away, I had to catch up or there would be hell to pay from kith and kin.

In the middle of the shopping, the gift-wrapping, the pigging out, the partying, and the million and one things that needed to be done all in the spirit of the season, it finally hit me. I’m now seeing Christmas from a different light. I am afraid I have stopped seeing the holiday season from the proverbial “eyes of a child.” Christmas is still fun; but it has become difficult to ignore the expense, the traffic, the harmful effects of cholesterol and alcohol, and the other aggravations that this season inevitably brings.

I grew up in a clan that was really big on Christmas. Celebrating the holiday season had always been a gigantic production in my family; one that involved mass-scale massacre of pigs and chickens and the preparation of an endless assortment of kakanin all of which required days of arduous manual labor. One such delicacy, a constant fixture on the Christmas buffet, was a chocolate suman called muron. It required at least a whole day to prepare and the assistance of at least five able-bodied individuals.

Christmas involved some work, but it had always been a wondrous occasion for celebration. Christmas used to be simply about basking in the warmth of the affection that family and friends bring; about celebrating someone’s birthday in simple, traditional but meaningful ways.
Now, it has become quite complicated. It’s become quite a chore. In fact, it can be a major headache as one struggles to balance various paradoxical situations.

Take the case of Christmas parties. These used to be simple straightforward affairs: People ate, exchanged gifts, played games, danced, and caught up on each other’s lives. Christmas parties used to be simply about spending time with kith and kin and having fun with them, preferably over a feast and bottles of alcohol of course. The feast is meant to provide energy for the merrymaking and the alcohol to loosen tongues and inhibitions and other things not fit to mention in this column.

Sadly, this isn’t the case anymore today. People still pig out and get drunk, but they have to do it in style. I went to a total of nine parties (with two more to go today before the big day tomorrow) in the last few days. All, as in every single one of them, prescribed a theme. This meant making sure that one arrived at the venue in the right attire, with the right props, and wearing the right character. Here’s a rundown on the themes of the parties I went to: A glitter party, a gypsy party, a military ball, an Oscar’s Awards party, a children’s party, a colors-of-Christmas party, a cowboy party, and, thankfully, a come-as-you-are party. Whew!

One is tempted to ask what cowboys and gypsies have to do with Christmas, but one learns not to argue with the people in charge of the food and the booze. Being a person who does not want to create adverse conditions for himself (such as having to explain to everyone why he is not wearing the prescribed attire), I have always made it a point to try—try being the operative term—to follow the prescribed theme. Unfortunately, this often meant extra preparation and expense. I sometimes get the feeling that many among us are confusing Christmas with Halloween.

And then there’s this matter of gift giving. This used to be simple then. One simply bought presents, wrapped them in Christmas wrappers, tied a ribbon on it and presto, a Christmas present! Today, wrapping Christmas presents has been elevated to the status of advanced art form. It doesn’t help when everyone seems to have latched into this idea that how a gift is given is just as important as the gift itself. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Rachy Cuna who can transform yesterday’s newspaper, some twigs, and a handkerchief into a wonderful Christmas present so we have to struggle with wrappers, ribbons, and scotch tape.

Unless, of course, one is giving a gift that comes straight from a designer boutique, in which case, the store’s packaging is more than enough to convey the value of the gift. It is truly a sad reflection of the times we live in when a paper bag, all right, a pouch carrying the name of some snotty Italian designer or an expensive brand can overshadow an artistically-wrapped gift anytime. Anyone who wants to argue with me on this one deserves that beautifully crafted gift that came in a bayong with sinamay and anahaw leaves instead of that ordinary supot that carries a Tag Hueur logo and the real thing inside it too.

When I was a child, a Kris Kringle system of gift giving was already in place. The system was meant to highlight the value of gift giving—one picks a name from a box and that person becomes the recipient of your generosity. It was supposed to be about, well, giving.

Today, the system has become quite complicated with specific themes for specific days; each year the themes become more and more perverse and astounding if not migraine-inducing. Forget about giving gifts that are green and round and slimy. A nephew who is in high school called me up for ideas over what gift to give to his “baby” that was “inspiring but perplexing.”
And whoever started this practice of posting “wish lists” on bulletin boards deserve to be condemned to years in purgatory waiting for gifts that wouldn’t come.

Someone once wrote this admonition: Don’t worry about the height and the ornaments in your Christmas tree because in the eyes of children they are all the same, they are all 30 feet high. At some point in the recent past, Christmas trees have stopped being about children. They have become designer items as well, caught up in the web of commerce and pretentious image building. Today, people go to such great lengths decorating their trees in the most unique way possible, following motifs and themes. A friend has gotten into this habit of decorating her Christmas tree differently every year.

And what about this matter of giving away cash gifts in crisp peso bills and in special envelopes with Chinese characters in them? At the bank where I work for, tellers had major difficulties trying to address the distinct needs of clients in terms of currency requirements for Christmas. Really, does it really matter if the bills are crisp or not? And does the color of the envelope really matter?

There are other aggravations that have made Christmas become complicated, stressful and expensive. But as usual, I am running out of column space. In a world that has become extremely materialistic, we really need to dig deeper into our hearts to surface the real meaning of Christmas. It’s not really about the trimmings and the glitter and the ribbons and the fuzz. We just need to relearn how to see Christmas with the eyes of a child.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A well written one.