Batuhan: A stolen Christmas?

HERE we come to that most awaited time of year again. When traffic snarls and eventually stands still. When shoppers hustle and bustle through the busy shops and malls, hoping to get that last-minute gift for a loved one. When food is spread on the table for the family to share. And when good will and good cheer come in abundance, to be shared by one and all.

Christmas this year, though, seems like a very strange visitor, almost like an unwelcome stranger, in an alien and unfamiliar landscape. It is as if somebody stole our Christmas away.

I was pondering this thought, when I came across an article written by Bishop Matthew H. Clark in The Catholic Courier, some three years ago now, and his words echo the feelings I have about this year’s celebrations. He was talking about the Dr. Seuss classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and this is what he had to say.

“All of us I think have enjoyed again and again the Christmas classic ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ which was first broadcast nearly 45 years ago and is still a holiday TV staple.

Toward the end of this wonderful story by Dr. Seuss, after the ‘mean one, Mr. Grinch’ has stolen just about every possible sign of Christmas from the Whos down in Whoville, he gleefully sits atop his mountaintop anxiously awaiting the angst that a Christmas-less Christmas morning will bring.

Instead, the narrator tells us, the Grinch gets a very big surprise. The sounds of the Whos’ voices rise to his ears. ‘This sound wasn’t sad. Why … this sound sounded glad!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing, without any presents at all! He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming. It came!

Somehow or other, it came just the same. It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?’”

When I say Christmas seems to have been “stolen” from us this year, I am referring to the muted celebrations, the many cancellations of parties and events, and the much reduced shopping and gift-giving compared to previous years.

And why so?

Mostly for the simple reason that many people don’t feel like celebrating, in the midst of so much suffering. Yes, suffering. Ordinarily, we Filipinos are accustomed to seeing hardship all around us. Our political institutions are corrupt, our politicians steal our money, and our people hardly have enough to make ends meet. Contestants join TV shows not for fun, but because they are the only means they have of raising funds for whatever pressing need they have in their lives. Wherever we turn, there are always those who are in need of something.

But the events of 2013 have made even what is commonplace and normal, extraordinary and abnormal. The sight of a beggar on the side of the street is something, but the horror of looking at pictures of devastated homes, and hundreds of dead bodies piled up beside the road is entirely another. Hearts not ordinarily moved by the endless parade of street urchins caroling beside one’s car while stopped at traffic, are wrenched and gutted by the grim footage flashing on the evening news.

So the usual Christmas extravagance goes out the window. And in its place come gestures of generosity hardly ever seen in a country already so jaded by suffering.

Which in the end, is probably just as well, because it reminds us all of what Christmas really ought to be—to share what we have with the least, and the last in life. And as long as we are in this spirit, Christmas will always be alive and well.

Dr. Seuss said it very well indeed: “Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we.”

(Wishing all our readers a truly blessed Christmas, and a most prosperous New Year!)

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