Christmas, no doubt, is the happiest time of the year for us Filipinos. We literally spend the whole year preparing or waiting for it. In times past, though hardly anyone had a bell in the house, except perhaps for the rare or occasional door bell, we joyously sang about bells jingling. Although nothing that approximated snow was ever seen anywhere in the more than 7,000 islands, except the frost that abounded in freezers for decades, we wistfully crooned about a white Christmas and imagined ourselves dashing like reindeers through the snow.
But those were things of the past. The bells were fake and the snow was imaginary but “laughing all the way” was the only line we could honestly claim as real.
Nowadays, no self-respecting radio station and disc jockey would most likely play “Jingle Bells” or “White Christmas” as often as they would the hits of the likes of Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Gary V and Jose Mari Chan. In place of the traditional American symbols of Christmas, we now have the all-Filipino parol, puto bumbong, bibingka and the phenomenon that is the Simbang Gabi, a nine-day series of Dawn Masses, in anticipation of Christmas which was started by farmers during the Spanish era to seek divine blessings for a bountiful harvest.
Christmas is one Church-feast that has had no problem being enculturated or indigenized. Christmas is still Christmas sans snow, sans Santa Claus, sans hollies and it has remained all these for many decades, indeed, a time to be more than simply jolly.
For a season that officially lasts barely three weeks, Filipino culture has gradually but surely appropriated it, made it the longest festivity in the whole country and the world and, more importantly, made it a totally Filipino celebration. No matter how simple and modest the spread is, every family’s dinner table heaves with overflowing joy and gratitude.
For most of us now, especially our OFW, we no longer dream of white Christmases, but yearn to be “home for Christmas.” Very few now pine for castañas as much as they look forward to sinking their teeth on the lowly puto bumbong and the more familiar lechon instead of ham. Of course, there is always the nonstop shopping, eating and partying. Truly, this season is a time of joy, merriment and almost total abandon.
Christmas is a glorious celebration of the birth of Christ and, for that alone, it is a celebration of God’s great love for us when He sent His only Son to save all of mankind. It was an act of selflessness that we need to emulate, of giving rather than receiving and of understanding and forgiving.
From the Simbang Gabi, which is really a symbol of sharing, the same spirit of kindness, compassion and charity and of service and caring for our fellowmen goes on everywhere as we honor and give praise to the birth of our Lord. The ghosts of Charles Dicken’s that bedeviled the stingy Ebenezer Scrooge do not haunt the Filipino Christmas, when family warmth and togetherness reign supreme and in copious abundance as we seek and enjoy each other’s company and being grateful for the gift of life. On Christmas Day, there is a splurging of love and kindness when everyone’s bygones are at the very least spoken of and there are no misers and no followers nor disciples of Scrooge. Indeed, it is a day of peace for all men and women of goodwill. And this, happily, includes industrial peace.
Such spirit of mutual giving and generosity is possible. It is eminently doable. But is it sustainable? All we need to do is to keep the spirit alive, all through the rest of every year that we spend preparing for or waiting for the next Christmas. Employers and employees can make it happen all day, in all ways and for always. Let this spirit live in us each day of the year and as we conduct our daily chores, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us, employers and workers alike.
Merry Christmas to the country’s 17,000 labor unions and to all my fellow ECOP employers!