“You better watch out, you better not pout. Santa Claus is coming to town.” As the song goes, Christmas is coming; and, it’s a time to be merry. Interestingly, in my beloved country, the Philippines, we enjoy the longest season of Christmas. That means once the “-ber” months arrive, the mood escalates to a Christmas frenzy.
Roots of Filipino Culture
Notably, the Christmas tradition is deeply embedded in Philippine culture. Historically, it finds its roots dating back five hundred years ago. In March 1521, the Spanish expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan landed on the shores of Homonhon Island. Under the strong tutelage of the Spanish friars during Spain’s 377 years of colonial rule, Christianity became pervasive in Philippine society. Hence, for the Filipino people, every year, when Christmas comes, it’s time to be merry.
Given that, it is no wonder that the Filipinos are known for their religiosity. This accounts for their being the most resilient, cheerful & friendly people in the Far East. Also, this cultural trait underpins the fact that come September of each year, the radio/television networks start to broadcast the traditional Christmas carols. Likewise, the 2 million-strong overseas Filipino workers start to look forward to their family reunions with the traditional noche buena on Christmas eve. Despite the difficulties and sufferings caused by the COVID pandemic, we can still expect the same mood: Christmas is coming, it is a time to be merry!
Dangers of Our Times
Amidst the festive Christmas environment, however, there is need to closely examine the detrimental effects of the COVID pandemic. Even before the onset of the COVID Pandemic, Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, raised the red flag on the dangers that could destroy the family, as follows:
Culture of the Ephemeral
This is defined as a pathological self-absorption, first identified as a mental disorder by the British essayist and physician Havelock Ellis in 1898. It is characterized by an inflated self-image and addiction to fantasy.4 As observed by Pope Francis , “It makes people incapable of looking beyond themselves, beyond their own desires and needs. Yet sooner or later, those who use others end up being used themselves, manipulated and discarded by that same mind-set. It is also worth noting that breakups often occur among older adults who seek a kind of “independence” and reject the ideal of growing old together, looking after and supporting one another.”5
Consumerism espouses the idea that increasing the consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal and that a person’s wellbeing and happiness depend fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions. Given the ubiquity of social media, consumers are often lured into buying consumer brands on impulse through the use of data analytics. This social phenomenon has shaped the materialistic outlook pervading society nowadays. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis warns that consumerism may also deter people from having children, simply so they can maintain a certain freedom and life-style”.6
Now more than ever, this malady of loneliness has become pervasive in societies on account of the prolonged home isolation brought by COVID. Moreover, the consequent fear and anxiety brought about by the pandemic have led to a general feeling of hopelessness, arising from the absence of God in a person’s life and the fragility of relationships.7
Christmas: A Time to be Merry but Change Needed
With Christmas Day being just two weeks away, it would be no surprise to see the shopping malls jam-packed again with holiday shoppers. Blame it on consumerism which has been exacerbated by social media. Lest we get distracted by such ephemeral activities, it behooves us to prepare ourselves even more for matters of greater importance. This means focusing on relationships: firstly, with God; secondly, with family; and, thirdly, with those in need. Thus, aside from planning for the Christmas gifts and parties, it would do well for us to conduct an examination of our emotional/spiritual health. Obviously, we need to look ourselves in the mirror and ask: ”what are my predominant faults, habits, or vices that I have acquired during the last 21 months of lockdown?” Definitely, it’s time for a change for the better.
The Meaning of Christmas
For starters, it would be good to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. For Christians, it is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God. He was sent by his Father God to be with us to redeem us from the slavery of sin. This realization of God’s love for us should motivate us to get out of our own “shell” of self-centeredness. In so doing, one becomes outward-looking instead. This simply means dropping the “I” and focusing on the “other”. Simply put, there is a need to embrace a paradigm shift that focuses not on the self but rather on the needs of those within one’s circle of influence i.e. one’s immediate family & relatives, neighbors, especially, the poor and the destitute.
As a corollary, we need to look at the icon of the Holy Family in Bethlehem in order to be inspired by the love exemplified by Joseph and Mary for the child Jesus. Indeed, how wonderful it is to be thankful for the Christmas celebrations, particularly when we realize how much God loves us. Let’s begin this Christmas.
In closing, as we prepare for the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, let us take time to consider a piece of practical advice given by St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, a Personal Prelature of the Catholic Church,:
“Don’t be so touchy. The least thing offends you. People have to weigh their words to talk to you even about the most trivial matters.
Don’t feel hurt if I tell you that you are . . . unbearable. Unless you change, you’ll never be of any use.”St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, 43
Have a blessed and merry Christmas!
- New York Times, July 27, 2020
- Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Lartitia, 33
- Ibid, 39
- Britanicca, Definition
- Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Lartitia, 39
- Ibid, 42
- Ibid, 43