Wednesday, December 21. 2011
We don’t have Thanksgiving in Manila, or any similar event. Only ridiculous mall propaganda like Thanksgiving sales that have no real meaning to us, if only to remind us to start our Christmas shopping early. Over here, Christmas is not only a time when students stuck in the university for three quarters of a year finally make the trek back to their moms’ sweet-smelling kitchens; it is also a time for the millions of Filipinos abroad and at sea to embark on a homebound exodus—of course, ideally with packs of chocolate and funds for remittances, as local TV will attest. Christmas is a long season spent planning and anticipating the noche buena, when families, no matter how poor, wait ‘til Christmas eve to eat dinner—where the Christmas ham is star. It is, in other words, the occasion we live most of each year for.
In fact, we are such fans of the holiday that the Christmas season in the Philippines begins in September—when the air starts getting cooler and the storms less arbitrary in their visits. Keywords related to Christmas go trending on Twitter early, and homeowners start exhibiting their artistry by working their front yards and shrubbery with blinking lights, and the treasured Filipino lantern, the parol, at the center. Like everyone else in the world celebrating this occasion regardless of the religion they actually practice, we too dream of the moment we kiss under some makeshift mistletoe, or at least open a gift from the feet of our synthetic Christmas trees. We too enjoy giving as much as receiving, and this dynamic might just be what drives the entire city and country for as long as the Christmas season lasts.
Before packing off my bags for my three-week retreat to my parents’, I cleaned up my city room and gathered stuff that I’ve kept for so long and that I knew in my heart I would never find the time or occasion to use, and food that, like so many before them, faced the possible future of spoilage, put them all in a paper bag, wrote another post-it saying “Merry Christmas!” and decided that I would give them to the first soul I see in the morning. The details of my small gift-giving-I-totally-expected-nothing-in-return-but-of-course-given-my-middle-class-sensibilities-I-did-whisper-in-the-air-that-I-would-love-some-positive-payback-activity are mundane enough and so vulnerable to an idealist’s mockery that they warrant a bigger writing space, heck, maybe even a short story.
Suffice it to say that it took me a good thirty-minute jeepney ride to finally find that one soul to give that “selfless” package to. I just couldn’t give it away easily. Not to one of the children that annoyed me daily on my ride by wiping my shoes with a dirty rag and later asking for loose change. Nor the skinny, pimply, teenage guy who sells bread on a bicycle—because he might be offended. I couldn’t drop it off at some charitable institution’s doorstep either, because there was too little I had to give. For someone who lives in a country where 99 percent is truly needy, and who herself belongs to that demographic, I was too damn picky.
I guess I, and many others have learned our lessons, especially with the tragedy that has been covered widely in the news recently. A series of flashfloods in the southern provinces of Iligan and Misamis Oriental have produced a death toll of over a thousand, not discriminating according to one’s standing in the social map. In a flash, huts, livestock, schools, homes in gated communities, and families, were razed by the environment’s war on terror. In a flash, people who once had nothing else to wish for on Christmas, turned up not having anything else left except the clothes on their bodies. In a flash too, people in Manila have organized drives to send monetary and material donations through. Primetime news shows reported the highest-giving donors in real time, while aspirants for bigger political positions found means to make sure their names are not forgotten. Some people I know found hope for new homes for items they’ve kept in storage for years, and have long been wishing to replace.
Somehow I have a feeling that there could not have been a better time for 2011’s last disastrous monsoon to occur. It would have happened sooner or later, that’s for sure. But being Filipino, and having a country that’s home to the longest Christmas season that lasts all the way until February, we will always find ways to be festive, happy. Let’s just hope that the next years would come up with better contexts for making us truly feel good about the whole giving and receiving business.
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