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Christmas stress and distress

/ 04:07 AM December 26, 2019

On my downloaded e-card that shows the Holy Family in the stable tucked in the middle of what looks like a desolate but serene blue-black landscape and with the newly born Jesus aglow in the dark, I wrote the following — my own stray thoughts — and posted it on Facebook:

Do not be despondent, annoyed or envious when people repeatedly and continuously make Facebook posts about their awesome blessings and great fortune that most people in this world are not blessed with. Christmas should not be a cruel season. Search for gems hidden in your own life and be grateful. Look to the manger.

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But with tongue in cheek I also say, do envy me because in this season of stress and distress I have just finished reading quietly and mindfully doctor of medicine Abraham Verghese’s long and sweeping novel, “Cutting for Stone.”

So many people were literally falling all over themselves as Christmas week drew near. And they still are. Many are breathless and sleepless because they chose to be so. And they complain about how hectic the atmosphere is, how harassed they are. Nagkakandarapa. Then they recall the Christmases of long ago when everything seemed so really Christmas-y and real and holy and worth remembering.

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So who turned Christmas in Metro Manila and other big cities the way it is now? The department stores? The malls? The advertisers?

If you’re harassed and jumpy and out of your wits, you have only yourself to blame. You deserve it and you brought this misery upon yourself. Who told you to shop till you dropped, who told you to bake till you ached, who told you to cook till you drooped?

Well, there are those who might be missing out on the gentle and soothing Christmas spirit because they are in dire situations that cannot be helped. But even those in prison or in their sickbed could have a Christmas that is more meaningful than the one experienced by those who are supposedly better situated.

I recall watching years ago a TV show called “Christmas in New York,” which partly showed how people in the Big Apple coped with Christmas. Some Christmas scenes from rural America were also shown to contrast with the pandemonium in New York.

A New York cabbie with a foreign accent was yelling at a guy who was trying to load a huge tree into his taxi. Not in my cab, he shouted. While somewhere on a quiet hill, a family was taking home a freshly cut tree to be put up and decorated in their small but bright living room.

It would be nice if a Filipino version that shows such contrasts could be made. Then urbanites will perhaps realize what they are missing out on because they don’t try hard enough to make Christmas a meaningful one. Shop if you want, work hard to make more money if it is what you need, but what a pity if the day comes and you’re not spiritually there.

Just drive through the streets where shopping malls are and you’d be tempted to utter a cuss word or two. (I’ve avoided the malls and did online shopping ahead of time instead.) I imagine traffic in a snarl, people rushing, cursing, hyperventilating.

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Then Christmas Day comes and this question they probably want to ask aloud but can’t: Where did Christmas go? Here’s a good answer: Ewan ko sa ’yo. Buti nga sa ’yo. Merry kandarapa.I had decided many Christmases ago that I will not allow the rush to overwhelm me. I like merrymaking and carousing and reunions. But I also like quiet moments when I can just take it all in and smile quietly to myself and think of the many people I love and cherish. And to read that old, old Christmas story on the pages of the Bible, and to be transported to that long-ago place where it all began.

Maligayang Pasko to the readers and most especially to the editors and staff of the Inquirer’s Opinion page, who made sure we sent this week’s column pieces way, way ahead of time so they could have the holiday they deserve.

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