Pas-Q spirit
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - September 2, 2020 - 12:00am

With the onset of the ’ber months, the merchants of Dapitan have put out their Christmas items.

Being a regular customer in the sprawling shopping area, I can tell that most of the goods were simply dusted off from last year’s Yuletide shopping season. A number of the stall operators in fact don’t even bother to keep the items in storage: they are year-round merchants of Christmas products.

With consumption severely dampened by the pandemic, there probably won’t be a lot of new holiday décor this year. There are always merchandise left over from the previous year, including Christmas lanterns or parol.

The lanterns of my childhood were always newly made, because the materials used were crepe paper, papel de Hapon or Japanese paper, colored cellophane and foil. (Japanese paper can actually be something different in Japan.) The crepe paper lanterns became faded and worn by the time the Feast of the Three Kings (always on Jan. 6 at the time) rolled around.

I learned to make the lanterns in school, with the frilly circle around a star on a bamboo stick frame and two lacey tails enclosing paper tassels.

Even when plastic was used, the lanterns didn’t last beyond one Christmas season. Today, lanterns made of capiz or windowpane oysters with multicolored lights are popular and can last years, so they can be stored for the next Yuletide if they aren’t sold. In Pampanga, the capiz lanterns are now all lit up in the roadside stalls.

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Entrepreneurs are hoping that the holiday spirit will revitalize consumption and ease their financial distress.

Those in the food business can count on a boost in consumption. COVID-related financial difficulties will temper spending, but food is the last consumer item that people will forgo during Christmas. Cash-strapped households may scrimp on quality, but in terms of quantity, there will be more food than the daily fare on the holiday table.

As for holiday gift-giving, people who can still afford to give gifts may opt for essential items. Instead of food baskets as giveaways, sanitation baskets or bags are now in vogue, containing face masks, face shield, alcohol, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, portable UV disinfectant, vitamin packs and even tissue paper.

Spending for toys will also likely go down. Instead, people will invest in gadgets and accessories needed by children for blended learning.

As for non-essentials, all the ukay-ukay outlets in my neck of the woods seem to be doing good business, but I’ve been told that apparel sales in department stores are drastically down.

I asked a driver (and regular ukay-ukay customer) about this phenomenon. He said one possible explanation is that these days, people are no longer trying on clothing and shoes before buying. If the ukay-ukay item turns out to be a bad fit but can no longer be returned, it won’t hurt too much because it’s dirt cheap. For pricier department store merchandise, product returns are accepted within a limited period, although the process can be a hassle.

San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora, whose city saw the first case of local COVID transmission in the country (the man and his wife died), is now studying protocols for the expected surge in visitors to the Greenhills Shopping Center.

Facing “The Chiefs” Monday night on OneNews / TV 5, Zamora reassured the public that it’s safe to shop in Greenhills, even with the easing of quarantines. The area is home to a top shopper destination in Metro Manila, the pearl trading center.

For about a week during the strictest enhanced community quarantine, Zamora said there was zero COVID transmission in San Juan. But he said fresh cases were reported with the shift to modified ECQ. Echoing a common sentiment, he said the country has no choice, however, but to live with COVID, and to prepare for increased crowd interaction during the holiday season.

To “dance” with COVID, local government units are ramping up testing, contact tracing and isolation capabilities. Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez, current chair of the Metro Manila Council, told The Chiefs that his city is set to open its own COVID swab testing laboratory, and will soon offer free swab tests to residents.

Neighboring Las Piñas opened its own swab testing laboratory this week. With swab testing becoming more accessible and the results released faster, coronavirus transmission could slow down. The saliva test, which produces instant results, will be a game changer in our pandemic normal once it arrives in the country.

Can the Christmas spirit lift our economy? We can make it happen, without ignoring COVID health protocols. Let’s not add to the sorrow of millions of people in this annus horribilis.

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Just in time for the ’ber months, yesterday’s trending story was Jose Mari Chan rewriting the lyrics to his much loved Christmas songs. Adapted to the time of COVID, here’s the rewrite of “Christmas in Our Hearts”:

“Whenever I hear girls and boys singing carols in my mind, I remember the past, when everything was fine. Whenever I see people giving gifts to those in need, I believe this Christmas, we should be there to lead. Let’s open up our hearts for a bright tomorrow, in any way we can, and drive out all our sorrow.”

And for his 1990 hit “A Perfect Christmas,” here’s the rewritten version:

“My idea of a perfect Christmas, is to spend it with you. We could Facetime an hour or two, any app would do. Carry with you this Yuletide season, it would light up my life. Though we are distant, you’ll see in my face that my heart is with you.”

People call it the spirit of “Pas-Q” (for Quarantine).

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