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Our Christmas

/ 12:06 AM December 18, 2016

As early as September each year, when I enter a mall in the city I hear carols playing. The cheerful sound makes me feel that it’s Christmas. My friend tells me it’s only September, but in the Philippines, it’s already Christmas.

I realize how fast time flies. Tempus fugit.

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My excitement in anticipating Christmas grows intense as October comes. It is the month of the Holy Rosary to Catholics. After the heavy rains, I watch, like a child, the wonderful display of Christmas decors, colorful lanterns and blinking lights in stores and restaurants.

I can see Christmas coming. I can’t believe it.

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After All Saints Day, the atmosphere vibrates with gaiety. I am overwhelmed by the myriad sights and sounds of Christmas everywhere—new toys for sale, strings of tiny twinkling lights dripping from the branches of trees along the streets, the pinch of the cold night wind, people meeting people, their faces aglow, as if God is truly in heaven and all is right in the world.

As Christmas approaches, I buy a copy of the Inquirer to read the news about warring factions in the world laying down their arms, declaring a ceasefire, in keeping with the message of peace that Christmas brings. “They shall turn their swords into ploughshares.”

In the first week of December, my son and my daughter, still happily unmarried in their 40s, go shopping, like so many others, for gifts for their aunts, uncles, cousins, and, most of all, their loving father. My children don’t actually know what I need in this world, if at all, and they try to buy something of great value to me, to warm the cockles of my aging heart. Last year it was a useful Lenova laptop computer.

Did I feel lucky, unlike so many others?

Since I was young, I had kept the habit of attending the “Simbang Gabi,” the dawn Masses celebrated on Dec. 16-24. But at my age, I now find it difficult to do it. The alarm clock jolts me awake at 3:30 a.m.,  and I go to join the congregation at the subdivision chapel where an invited priest officiates at the rite. The chapel is small, and it is lavishly adorned with various lanterns and glittering lights. A small belen is put up at the front side of the altar, an improvised nipa shack where I can see the figures of Mary and Joseph standing over a vacant crib filled with dried straw, exactly where they have stood for ages. The Mass is celebrated with a burst of joyful songs.

On Christmas Eve, after the Mass, my son, my daughter and I, the only ones left in this  world in our family, along with our house helper, gather around the Christmas tree in the living room to exchange gifts. My daughter shrieks in delight at seeing the new dress I bought for her, and she hugs me tight. After a brief prayer, we partake of macaroni salad, Chinese ham, smoked bangus, grapes and oranges, and sparkling champagne.

At Christmas we enjoy the revelry, to our hearts’ content, knowing that we are joining the whole world in celebrating the Savior’s birth.

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The cool wind of December makes me remember that Jesus was born in a stable in the quiet town of Bethlehem during the reign of Augustus Caesar in Rome, thousands of years ago. It was so long ago, and yet the world still celebrates it today.

I can’t believe it.

Mariano F. Carpio, 72, is a retired teacher of UST.

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