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Being scrooged

Lagrimas Perdio .

WITH the Christmas season upon us, it seems absurd that no one seems to notice just how shallow this observation has become. After all, this is one of the holiest of days in the Christian community, which we Filipinos profess to be. The only reason why I’m talking about it at all is due to all the chatter I’m hearing about people complaining that they only get up to the fourteenth month pay (among other things).

Two extra months’ pay? Are you kidding me? Some people don’t even get minimum wage, and some sectors are demanding a fifteenth month bonus to boot. And there are people clamoring for a pay increase, kids writing extremely unreasonable letters to Santa–which unthinking but complaining parents are going to fulfill. What is the world coming to?

It cannot be denied that the economy is hurting us more than we want or like. And yet, we are just a bunch of unsatisfied people using up precious oxygen. Prices are soaring (except fuel which has taken a nosedive lately), traffic is unbearable (we don’t even bother to compute the total worth of cars on a one-kilometer stretch of highway), the kids are irritating, the maid wants a weekend off to go home for Christmas, the boss is giving out extra work before the break, the President is talking about smoking weed… where do I get off this merry-go-round?

For the most part, those of us who do the complaining are the models being phased out. But we don’t take into consideration how badly we have already influenced the young in their view of this time of year. It amazes me how expertly kids these days have mastered the art of negotiating their way into getting what they want simply because it’s Christmas. They figured out early on that this is the only time of the year (even more than birthdays) where the loot haul could possibly be into the tens of thousands, for those that can afford it; and into the hundreds for those who can’t.

Maybe I’m too naive, but the world really has changed. I dream of the simpler, safer days when there was an excitement in the air because December was just around the corner. Carolling was a kid’s experience, hoping to gain a few centavos, and not the fund-raising activity it is today. We played with bamboo cannons loaded up with kerosene (actually an activity which we were left unsupervised by adults to do), excitedly fearing the possibility of losing all our facial hair yet anticipating the loud boom which would fill the air. Children played in the streets, people hung cleverly-crafted stars made out of Japanese paper on the eaves of their houses so that streets were lined with colorfully lined with them. And the excitement of not knowing what was in the brightly wrapped packages under the tree was too suspenseful to bear.

I suppose because we were too Americanized, the pine Christmas tree became ubiquitous and homes were proud to have scraggly agoho in the sala, stuck in a big tin laton held up by rocks, decorated with simple ornaments and maybe one or two strings of lights if we were lucky. As children, we made colorful paper chains (which we learned to do in school in arts class) which would then be wound around the tree, our contribution to the arboreal beautification project.

Discussions about what was to be prepared for Noche Buena came early, so that we had a week or two to salivate over what was to be placed on the dining table on that very special night. Foods that we only saw at Christmas were eagerly anticipated, along with the little treats which surely would come our way. Mantecado, glazed pork hams, icebox cakes–food too special to be eaten on a daily ordinary basis. But that was then.

I feel sadness for all the anticipation and simple joys that today’s kids are missing out on. How special can a trip to the mall be at Christmas time? When this trip is made often enough on a weekly basis? How exciting is the thought of special food when lechon can be bought on any given day, by the kilo? And the additional decorated plastic made-in-China tree set in the middle of the living room has lost its religious meaning?

It’s not even fair for me to say that I haven’t been affected. I so look forward to the two weeks off from work when I can be lazy. And yet I dread the thought of going out in public to be greeted by “Pinaskuhan beh” at every turn. I can’t remember as a child that there were that many beggars on street corners. Or warnings against pickpockets in the malls and market places. How sad. Truly how sad that our Christmas season has become all this.

Have I become so blase, so jaded that the holiday season means nothing more than a mid-year vacation? When did the Christian holiday which symbolizes family, love, and brotherhood become this materialistic circus? When people expect, nay, demand generosity from strangers all in the name of the season?

But then there seems to be a reciprocal dynamic going on here. Come December, there is such a flurry of charitable activities–gift giving, medical missions, pahalipay. Call it what you may, it seems to be an attempt to make up for a year’s worth of no compassion. Or perhaps it is a way to assuage the overwhelming materialism which cocoons us at this time. Why can’t people be as giving the whole year round?

Perhaps my internal angst is due to the fact that there are two dialectically opposed forces here. On the one hand, is the religious context which is the reason for Christmas. The reason to reflect upon what we profess to be the foundation of our religious if not spiritual beliefs. That in itself is quite intense since we don’t normal like to dig any deeper than what our religious leaders teach us. On the other is the blatant commercialism of the holiday season that we buy into without so much as a small clear thought, that we unthinkingly teach our children by osmosis.

There is an element of greed that pervades the holidays. Even children become avaricious little monsters, taking advantage of the one time of the year when they can negotiate to get what their materialistic little hearts desire. Those who feel disenfranchised or deprived also see this as the time when they can shamelessly beg because the season demands generosity. For those who dole out what is doled out, this perhaps is the season to quell the guilt of materialism and greed which unthinkingly drives their lives for the rest of year.

What have we become? Perhaps if I, for once, be honest with myself and face the harsh reality of why I so look forward to this year-end season of 13th month pay and holiday bonuses, of extra days off, of gluttony, then perhaps I can enjoy these next couple of weeks with a conscience that doesn’t give me small quivers of guilt every now and then.

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