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Christmas for grown-ups

/ 05:03 AM December 31, 2019

I want to know what I was thinking that one Christmas Eve when I decided not to hang my favorite pair of socks anymore.

I wonder why I suddenly stopped believing that it was Santa Claus who had placed the P100 bill inside them in previous years.

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I have come to accept that I will never know the answers; I guess, maturity is partly responsible for them.

Growing up, I considered Christmas vacation as the most exciting time of the year.

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I could watch my favorite television shows, receive gifts from godparents I barely even recognized, and expect my reward from Santa. However, beginning two years ago, I have associated the season with failure, loss and anxiety.

It was Christmas break of 2017 when I found out that I had failed one of my major subjects. As someone who’s used to getting good grades in school, having “70” appear in my report card was pretty overwhelming and terrifying.

How was I going to spend Christmas and New Year knowing that I failed? How would my parents react? How would I tell my friends that I didn’t make it? These were the things that messed up my head when I learned of my very first academic failure.

It took me almost a day or two to absorb the news and admit my failing grade to my parents.

I was so hesitant to tell them, because I felt I was failing in everything—not only as a student but also as a child.Last year, for the very first time, my father’s side of the family spent their Christmas together.

Rarely does this happen since Auntie Maya, as I fondly call her and the one who initiated the event, lives in another province. The day was spent with lots of picture-taking and eating—not knowing it would be our last Christmas with her.

She died last May from a disease she had been silently battling for years.This year, I am spending my Christmas vacation with heightened anxiety. I never thought I had to worry about not graduating on time.

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Now I understand my cousin’s tears when she found out that she would graduate a little later than her friends. It’s the thought that, maybe, you’re not just good enough.

Perhaps education is not a race, but the agony of blaming yourself, knowing that you could have done better, is unbearable. These days, I have been constantly checking our group chat, because at any given time our instructor might post updates about our grades. As a distraction, I would just clean the entire house, watch “Friends” and read.

I should not be fearing failure anymore since I had already experienced something like it two years ago. However, the pressure gets more intense when you’re about to cross the finish line.

It’s as if you’re an athlete about to win and be your nation’s pride, but because of muscle soreness, you lose track of your goal and begin to falter. Or as that old Filipino adage says, “Baka ang ginto, maging bato pa.”Maybe I am just associating Christmas with the wrong things.

What if I’m failing to recognize that Christmas is actually a gift—that despite failure, loss and anxiety, Christmas is more about redemption, love and forgiveness?

It was also during that despairing Christmas break of 2017 when, one day while I was sitting on a bench outside our house, a neighbor approached me. I thought he would comment on how I had grown bigger in the past year. Instead, I was shocked when he said the words that magically changed my perspective: “Lalaingem. Itaktakder mo iti rigat ken arapaap iti taga Pared. (Strive. Carry with you the struggles and dreams of Pared.)” I was left speechless. I thought things like that only happen in movies, where a wise man approaches the struggling protagonist and changes the course of the story.

That encounter helped me on my road to redemption. Despite hitting rock bottom, I soldiered on, and two years later, I’m still doing my chosen degree program.As we grow older, we realize that the gifts we receive during Christmas may not always be tangible items; they could be life lessons we gain from even the most unfavorable experiences. If you’re struggling during this time of year, remember that those experiences can be gifts, too.

Vincent Verzola, 20, grew up in an agricultural community in Pared, Alcala, Cagayan

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TAGS: Christmas, Christmas break, Holiday, New Year, Tradition
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