CHRISTMAS should be a time for relaxing and enjoying. It’s a time for gift-giving, parties, reunion, shopping and vacation. For unexplained reasons, people are more generous and kind during the season. They become more religious too. The nine-day dawn masses are overflowing with people, something that is not seen on regular Sunday Masses.

But for many years now, I find the Christmas season stressful too. Just decorating the house demands time and attention. Taking out the old Christmas decorations from the storage room, checking and cleaning and putting them back is hard work. That’s the reason why we have less and less decorations every year. Few years ago, we decided not to have a Christmas tree anymore.

Then there’s financial stress. The 13th month pay is not enough to cover the cost of gifts, parties, reunions, new clothes, ‘aginaldo’, food for Noche Buena and Media Noche and other miscellaneous expenses. As a public official, there are solicitations left and right for the Christmas parties of the different sectors in the community like the tricycle drivers, barangay tanods, senior citizens, women’s, health workers, etc.

Finding time for all the parties and activities that are squeezed in the first two weeks of December is also stressful. There are Christmas parties almost every day, sometimes two in a day. Attending all of them is almost impossible. So, I only select the few important ones where my presence is of utmost importance.

In the office, the December workload is huge. Because the fiscal year is about to close, there are deadlines. The public holidays (I counted 5 in December ) shorten the working days needed to accomplish the urgent task. December is also the time for year-end inventories and closing of books. At the city hall, it’s the time for budget deliberation.

Shopping for gifts is stressful too. Choosing the right gift for the people in the list is likewise taxing. Adding to the stress is the long queue in cashier counters, fitting rooms and gift wrapping section. Sometimes, delivering the gifts is an added burden.

Because of stress, sometimes I don’t feel the excitement and joy of the season. I usually take a long vacation leave, but most of the time I still end up working. I counter the stress by finding joy in the simple things that comes with the holidays. The bibingka and ale ube, the bright colored Christmas lights and Christmas carols. I also find happiness in keeping the tradition of visiting relatives on Christmas day.

But of course, my greatest joy is in Jesus, the star of the season. It was he who said, “come to me all you who are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest”. Christmas, in all its grandeur, would never be complete without the “Emmanuel”, the God who is with us.

Merry Christmas everyone!