Monday, December 12, 2011

Breaking traditions

This post is antedated.

The season for partying, exchanging gifts, and endless binging on food and booze is upon us.

We’ve read all the dire warnings from experts: More cases of cardiac arrests, hospitalization for hypertension, and ironically, suicide, happen during this season of merrymaking.

Unfortunately, resisting temptation is particularly more difficult during a season when everyone makes an effort to be nicer and more generous.

How exactly do you say no to bosom childhood friends you only get to see once a year?

How does one disengage from a reunion with relatives who travel kilometers to bask in the warmth of familial ties?

Who has the heart and the, well, stomach to say no to former officemates who made life under the worst kind of boss more bearable?

So we show up at parties, line up at buffet tables, play yet another round of Pinoy Henyo and yet another variation of musical chairs, and yes, guzzle vats of alcohol like there’s no tomorrow; diets and medical conditions be damned. After all, we can always resolve as a New Year’s resolution to have more fortitude the next time around.

But seriously, there are other ways to celebrate the season without necessarily consuming dangerous levels of substances that are bound to clog our arteries or pickle our livers.

I attended three such events recently. What can I say, there are benefits, after all, to this increasingly becoming insane drive to stage Christmas parties “differently” every year. I’m usually indifferent to efforts to come up with unusual themes, new gimmicks, and creative flourishes to the traditional Christmas party, but I now think the energy can be channeled towards achieving more productive and healthier results without necessarily forsaking the need for fellowship and rekindling the warmth of bonds.

The People Management Association of the Philippines, the premier association of human resource managers in the country celebrated the Christmas get-together differently this year. Last December 9 we trooped to the Philippine Educational Theater Association Center in Quezon City to watch a special production of the highly acclaimed musical Caredivas. We had cocktails at the PETA Center just before the show where we partook of traditional Christmas fare – puto bumbong and bibingka cooked right on the spot, paella balls, pan de sal at kesong puti.

Caredivas is what it has been touted to be: A splendid production with a big, big heart. The generally laid-back HR managers had a rollicking great time most eventually shed their initial reservations about watching a “drag show.” Caredivas is about five gay men who worked as caregivers in Israel at the time of the intifada (the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation) and who at nighttime would transform themselves into glamorous drag queens in a Tel Aviv club. It’s yet another take on the difficulties Filipino overseas workers face while working abroad – this time, told from the point of view of gay men and presented with lots of wit, heart, and yes, feathers and sequins.

It was a great way to spend a Christmas party. We were in stitches from the time the play opened to the time the characters took their bows and ran in their stilettos to the lobby to mingle with the audience as they were streaming out of the theater and gamely posed for pictures.

Many of those in the audience thanked the organizers for “exposing” them to issues of marginalized people and for opening their minds to the many ways in which discrimination is institutionalized in societies everywhere. If we come to think about it, what better message is there to ponder about in this season of love, joy and peace?

Unfortunately, Caredivas ended its run last night (Sunday, December 11). But there are many other productions that are running in other venues. Groups can also ask local theater or performing groups to mount special shows for them. Just allowing people to sit, relax and enjoy a great performance is also a great way to celebrate the Christmas spirit. In addition, we are able to support Philippine productions. I have nothing against foreign productions per se, but hopefully, for every Mamma Mia, Cats, and Phantom of the Opera that we watch, we can also take the time and effort to go out and watch a local production.

Former graduate school students of mine set up another “unique” Christmas Party last week. The theme they picked was “Organic Christmas” and the invitation specifically asked that attendees come in attires and bringing with them Christmas giveaways and presents that were organic – in short, no plastic and artificial or chemically laced stuff were allowed. The food was superb and could be ingested without guilt. The rice was organic black rice, the salads and vegetables were all organically-grown, and even the chicken was free-range. The juices that were served were also fresh.

The games were quite inventive – one such game involved inventorying the number of non-environmentally friendly stuff we were carrying in our person and the one with the least number was declared the winner. And we all went home happy with the Christmas gifts we received – presents we all agreed we were more than happy to keep or consume. I received bayongs of various organic products – from coffee, to chocolate, to juices, etc. Stuff I would love to receive more of.

The third party I attended over the weekend was a simple get-together which involved a meditation session, a sharing session, and yes, eating food that was good for the spirit and the body. The focus of the party was healing and reflection. I know some people out there may think that such activities would be completely not in sync with the spirit of the season but I disagree. Christmas is probably the one occasion that we need to do more reflection and meditation. As one bishop said, it’s not Santa Claus that is coming on Christmas; it’s Jesus Christ.

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