Redefining Yuletide

ARMY OF ME (The Philippine Star) - December 20, 2014 - 12:00am

The glossiest of seasons, in all its indulgent glory, is on the horizon. The closer we get to Christmas, the louder its silver bells peal. By this same time next month, when all is done and dusted, those of us who gave the holidays all their might — buying new advent calendars, shouting Jingle Bell Rock from the rooftops — will have been rewarded with enough cheer to electrify the first quarter of the new year.

Admittedly, as I grow older, it gets more difficult to pretend that all is merry and bright. Christmas no longer makes me feel like I did when I was six — or eight, or 11 — when the lights woven into the branches of a tree, the cash gifts from “Santa” (dedicated to me in, suspiciously, my mother’s penmanship) and the toys from my grandparents’ latest trip to New York or Chicago were compensation and consolation for anything that had ever gone right or wrong in my life. I have, slowly and regretfully, accepted that Christmas and I can never be to each other what we once were when I was little, when I loved it because it was everything to me.


Each year, I imagine a fresh start with Christmas. But can that still be possible when I have, it seems, become too wise and too grounded in reality to fall under its spell? Still, in an attempt to recapture even just a fraction of that spark, I will continue to redefine this time of year in a way that makes sense to me.

The first issue revolves around food. Encased in the amber of my childhood are sounds and smells of marathon Christmas feasts with family. Heartburn? It was an alien concept back then.

Since my mom passed away two years ago, however, things have not been the same. (Trust me, there is nothing more dispiriting than a loved one’s last Christmas. No comment is ever neutral and everything takes on an extra shade of meaning. The morbid, the merrier.) Now, in place of the flurry of activity I once associated with Noche Buena, there’s an eerie stillness. Once heaving with turkey and lechon, the table is lighter, with only wine, cheese, fruit, and tea sandwiches. One shouldn’t be eating that much that late in the evening anyway.


The next topic deals with Christmas cards. While no one I know, my age or younger, cares about them, we’re all old enough to recall when they meant something.

Is the Christmas card obsolete? When it comes to conveying information, it definitely is, since email and social networks do a more efficient job. Is the Christmas card an avatar then? For most parents, possibly. In the eyes of Mom and Dad, the most precious cards are the ones we made when we were kids. These handcrafted greetings called for considerable effort on the part of our tiny hands, and they symbolize a time when our parents were our entire world and we were theirs. It’s something neither of us can ever get back.


The last one involves presents. In my teens, it was all “I want!” and “Give me!” and “Now!” I assumed that unless you almost bankrupt yourself shopping all four corners of the world for gifts for me, you should be ashamed of yourself.

As an adult, I have become a living cliché: I’ve realized that whether you give or receive, the best gifts are those that don’t necessarily cost the earth yet carry a dear price tag because they eloquently address the giver, the receiver, or both. Truth be told, if you asked me what I wanted most this Christmas, it is simply to be left alone — to sleep, to read, to eat, to exercise, to watch my TV shows, to daydream, to do absolutely nothing. (Of course, a pair of Jil Sander shoes wouldn’t hurt either.) Sigh.

As the glissando of Christmas turns up its volume, I wait for the day with a wild festive tremble. The meaning of the yuletide season may have changed for me, but my hopes are high that somehow I can still recapture the joy and longing of holidays past.

Happy Christmas!

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