this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on December 21, 2010.
AS A child I loved holidays. Every holiday presented a reason to celebrate—whether it was tree planting or the heroism of Martin Luther King. And Christmas, the holiday of all holidays, was the one I liked best. It was a holiday that surrounded you, that engulfed your life with sparkle and love. The lights, the Christmas trees, the holiday décor and the Woolworth Santa Claus were everywhere, warming my spirits and turning my surroundings into a colorful playground. I could feel the joy more intensely because I was a child. The colors and the sudden warmth on people’s faces turned bleak snow into a heartwarming blanket spreading itself and opening the landscape to innocent wonder.
Christmas was a season when our friends of different races—Chinese, Russian, Chilean, French—gathered under our roof and exchanged gifts and stories. It was an excuse for Filipinos exiled in the United States to invite their kababayans to dinner of adobo, puto and lechon imported from New Jersey.
The affection of the friends we invited to our house took the shape of the gifts I looked forward to see on Christmas morning: storybooks, dolls, the stuffed animal left by Santa Claus in my red sock after I left him cookies and a glass of milk. My parents were always with me to make that special day happy and memorable. Everything Christmas represented, and every object that represented it, were things that kept me fascinated for many years.
It was a fascination that I sorely miss especially now that Christmas doesn’t seem as magical as it used to be. Being wiser to the ways of the world, I sometimes feel that Christmas is something we grudgingly repeat every year to ease our misery. No one really seems to care. I see mall employees hanging decorations inside SM as if it were just one of their many chores. It may be an attitude people had before, but then I was looking through the lens of a child. Maybe it’s because I am now living in a country where too many people cannot afford to buy themselves a decent meal, much less a Christmas Eve feast. Seventy percent of the world’s population lives below the poverty line, pretending to be happy ignoring others who cannot afford to be happy seems almost morbid. Forcing one’s self to smile at the end of every year wears on one’s nerves and makes one wonder if it’s worth it after all.
I am beginning to realize, as I approach my 18th Christmas on this earth, that all my angst may be misguided. We don’t forget our poverty, our loneliness and our lost loves on Christmas. It is silly to say we can forget these. Christmas can’t be an escape hatch to pure, innocent happiness, even for a child who is constantly learning about the world (and Christmas).
The years we live are all variations of the same struggles of life, but each year ends with Christmas, heralding renewal and a sort of rebirth. Jesus is reborn year after year, bringing the promise of salvation, and in a way, he gives us a chance to repeat our lives under the different circumstances created by age and experience.
When I was a child experiencing Christmas, I was embarking on the adventure called life, and the beginning, or my birth as one might say, was made a magical celebration by the birth of Jesus himself. We weren’t rich, but my parents and the people around me gave me the opportunity to experience that birth, unlike many children of my home country who weren’t given the same chance. Knowing that this life we embark on is essentially what Christmas stands for makes a child optimistic and hopeful. It gives a child the confidence to open doors which once seemed closed and to walk through these doors without fear of rejection. Giving children a reason to live is something I as an adult can do to experience Christmas not as a receiver but as the Santa Claus of my memories.
I am an ordinary student with an allowance to budget, but there are some perks I enjoy which most people, and many children, deserve to enjoy. I eat three full meals a day, have one afternoon snack, and occasionally buy jewelry for myself (which I do more often nowadays because of so many tiangges). I have several bank accounts where I store my savings. When I was a child I had a whole pile of gifts under the Christmas tree to myself (the immigrant friends of my parents sacrificed a few dollars to put a smile on a little girl’s face). Buying cards from Unicef, among other ways of gaining access to charitable organizations for children, is one simple way of giving a little bit of what I have to people who need it more. Making less privileged children happy, even just by giving them enough for a decent meal in this season they deserve to enjoy too, is a way of showing them that there is hope, no matter how cruel life seems to them. Giving them hope instills optimism in them, providing them a better chance of living happy and productive lives. If we do not show them kindness, they will take the path of hopelessness.