Turn on the light

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Saturday, December 21, 2013


WHEN asked what I should write about that fits well to the general feeling of being so close to Christmas Day, people like to tell me to write about something happy or sweet or both.

Truth is: I find it harder to talk about all that glitters in my surroundings because too often are they covered by the asses of the many people who make it a point to darken my day. But since Santa Claus paid my house a visit after I swore vehemently for years that his existence is a hoax (I hope you are reading this and not kissing my Mommy, Santa), I feel that I owe it to his braving our house’s guard dogs to deliver our presents on time, to forego the gloom and doom of living in today’s world, for once.

What is Christmas?

That may sound like something out of an essay question in a grade school exam paper. But in today’s fast-paced world, does Christmas still mean the same idea it did thousands of years ago? Pre-Christianity Romans celebrated the pagan sun god, Mithra, on the 25th of December, also known as the Nativity of the Sun. For Christians, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ and the giving of gifts memorializes the three kings (or “magis”) that visited the infant Jesus in his manger and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Most people would react vehemently that its pagan roots do not change its holiness in the contextual sense. It may or may not. However, for me, the time for devouring one or two lechons and a platter of Mom’s homemade lasagna to be topped with delicious chocolate cake and a glass of Coke should not be wasted on historical debate.

In my opinion Christmas is not just some Biblical celebration. We remember the birth of a baby that would be king of Jews, but we also remember friends, family and loved ones. The fine line between Christmas and Valentine’s Day is that on Christmas, the love we show is not defined by the superficiality of expectation—we expect gifts, but we do not expect them to be loud and showy. That is why I will always celebrate Christmas under my tree, and Valentine’s Day under my bed.

Why is Christmas still important?

The obvious answer would be: Christmas break. Students, whether from the elementary, secondary or tertiary level, have one small ray of hope that gets them through the traditional pile of massive homework and tests usually associated with the close proximity of a break. Often we hear expressions like “Kapoya na sa life oy!” or “Di na ko kahulat sa Pasko!” and my favorite “Bigti na ko!”

That is why Christmas is also a time to pause. We are on a constant, never-ending play every single day of our lives until we die and the credits are rolling but Christmas allows us to pause from all the drama and spend it with the people we matter to us. It is a day of remembrance. And in the Filipino context, it is not only about sharing food with ate, kuya, Mama and Papa but also most especially to tita, tito, lola, and lolo. In a growing “selfie” world, it is about time we think about “others” too.

Can’t I get a better gift?

Our relatives and friends are not experts at gift-giving. Of course they won’t get you a Lamborghini. Of course you are not getting a house and lot. Of course nobody is getting you a boyfriend. You will constantly be in want of a “better gift.”

What is a better gift, anyway?

Is it shoes with a more popular brand name? Is it shinier jewelry? Is the kind of chocolates that will make you moan with pleasure? “Better” is so materialistic. “Better” is so superficial. “Better” is so February. Christmas is not about the better but the best. We get the best of having family or friends or both around. We get the best of what they can afford to give us. We eat the best spaghetti in town. And we see the best in the people who donated gifts to the victims of the recent calamities and helped in their rehabilitation process.

There are still plenty more things about Christmas that puts the “happy” in “Happy Holidays!” and there is no need for me to enumerate them all. Some people say that Yolanda took away the Christmas spirit that permeates the air with its aroma of lechon and pine ham. Some even say that she blew away Santa’s sleigh and knocked off all the presents. But I do not think so.

A great wizard once said, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.”

(Maria Karlene Shawn Isla Cabaraban is currently taking up Bachelor of Arts in Sociology-Anthropology at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. She spends her non-studying hours writing or reading or both in coffee shops. She spends her studying hours hoping it will make her a lawyer someday.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 22, 2013.

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