Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In the spirit of the season

This was my column on the date indicated above.

A most recurring observation that I kept hearing from various people in this particular season of peace on earth and goodwill to all men was this thing about how the jolly fat man in a red suit has become the foremost symbol of the season instead of the baby in the manger.

The Church has even come out with an official statement admonishing people to put out a belen in their homes as part of their Christmas d├ęcor; short of saying that those color-coordinated Christmas trees and those paper mache figures of Santa Claus in various stages of mischief and repose (you’ve seen Santa climbing a rope or aboard a calesa but have you seen Santa on a bathtub?) are trendy and cute but that they miss the real essence of the celebration.

I have no problem with keeping our perspectives about Christmas in check. I’ve also been saying the same thing in these last many years. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to compete with the advertising and merchandising resources of big business, they who make gazillions of money around this time of the year. Of course they promote commercialism, it’s the reason for their existence!

As a human resource management professional, I have also been bewailing the fact that Christmas parties for employees have become complicated affairs. Not only are companies expected to come up with creative themes that would put to shame all other Christmas themes ever thought of, people are also expected to come up with all kinds of gimmickry to ensure that everyone has a great time. The messages of the season could very well be: Binge! Get bankrupt! Party like there is no tomorrow! It’s also around this time that employees max their credit cards, take out all kinds of loans, and demand or expect all kinds of additional remuneration from employers. As I said, it’s time we really make a serious effort to keep our perspectives in check.

It really just takes leadership and political will to bring about changes. At the Bank that I work for, the president decreed early December that gift-giving between and among employees would be discouraged. Instead, a fund drive to raise money for orphans was launched and employees were asked to donate to the fund—or some other charity instead. There were those who saw the mandate as a damper on the spirit of the season. But most heaved a sigh of relief. At the very least, it saved many of us trips to the mall to buy gifts. More importantly, it allowed us the chance to do something meaningful this Christmas.

This matter of exchanging gifts has always been problematic anyway. Oh I know, it’s the thought that counts—the actual gift should be immaterial. But then again, as long as one is giving a gift, one might as well give something that would be appreciated. Obviously, people with higher stature in life such as bosses and ranking government officials are perceived to have finer tastes. Thus, we end up spending more for gifts for these people—they who don’t need material presents—than we do for people who really need help such as messengers, utility personnel, househelp, etc. This Christmas, I hope we can all consider giving more to people who need our help most. Perhaps we can spend more for the gifts we give to indigents, poor relatives, etc, rather than simply giving them standard giveaways such as a planner that they have no use for.

About four years ago I wrote a column on 10 possible things we can all do on Christmas day that may help rekindle that old warm feeling that is supposed to come with this joyous season. I am reprinting parts of that column today, with some parts rewritten for brevity. Here then are some things you can do on Saturday, Christmas Day:

Make sandwiches of the leftover ham and cheese from the Noche Buena feast. These will probably be lying around ignored in the dining table for the rest of the day until someone finally has the heart to stuff them into the refrigerator where they will lay untouched for a few more days, if not weeks. With a few slices of apples and some strips of lettuce or cabbage, these can be transformed into delightful gourmet sandwiches. Wrap them in paper napkins of sandwich bags if you have them and give these to the streetchildren that are bound to come knocking at your car in some intersections of the Metro. These kids probably will have to fight for a slice of ham and probably won’t have queso de bola at their table on Christmas Eve so your leftovers will definitely be a welcome treat for them. Some of my friends and I started doing this since a couple of years back and it is something guaranteed to make you feel the real spirit of the season.

Reach out to someone you haven’t been had contact with for sometime now. It’s the time to mend broken friendships, forgive old hurts, or simply validate someone’s presence in your life. Write a letter, call, or send a text message. You have the perfect excuse to do it today—it is Christmas.

Spend some quality time with your loved ones, especially the old and the young. Remember, quality time is measured by the receiver; so make an effort to do the things that truly mean something to the people you love, not the ones that you think has meaning to them. Often, this simply means spending time with the kids doing what they like best—either joining them in playtime or just being there with a smile on your face and without any trace of judgment for their countless demands. Or this could mean just spending time with your old folks listening to them drone on and on about the thousand and one concerns of the aging.

Go to church. You do not have to attend a mass or participate in a religious ceremony if you do not feel like it. Being inside a church for a few moments of silence and reflection really does wonders to the spirit. I particularly do not like hearing mass, but I have always found solitude inside a church, particularly on Christmas Day.

Watch a movie with your family and support the Metro Manila Film Festival. I know the quality of Filipino movies has been on a general downward trend, but this is the best time to go watch a Filipino movie. The spirit of the season is a perfect excuse to enjoy even the most escapist plot or the most awful film output. The Philippine film industry is dying and needs all the support it can get from all of us. Films do serve an important role in strengthening our country’s collective soul and it would be tragic if we simply watch it gasp for its last dying breath without doing anything to help.

Make an inventory of the Christmas presents that you received and remember to thank the people who gave them. It has become very convenient to think that just because you already reciprocated the gesture by exchanging gifts with the person, there is no need to say thank you. A simple text message or a note would go a long way to validate the other person’s gesture.

Pray for our country. God knows we need all the divine intervention we can get in these uncertain times. But the Christmas season is a good time to remind ourselves that hope springs eternal. There is still hope for our country.

Maligayang Pasko!

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