Still, Merry Christmas! | Inquirer Opinion

Still, Merry Christmas!

/ 04:08 AM December 25, 2020

It’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” goes that eponymous song, about Christmas of course. And why not? It is, after all, the most lucrative time for merchants, a much-anticipated gift bonanza for kids, and balikbayan season for Filipinos who consider the extended holidays a perfect occasion for family reunions, the traditional celebration in most households.

Well, except this year. President Duterte last Dec. 7 appealed to Filipinos to refrain from attending Christmas parties and large gatherings to help control the spread of the COVID-19 virus that could result in a possible surge of cases. With the vaccine expected by the second half of next year at the earliest, any spike in infection because of people ignoring social distancing and health protocols would definitely overburden the country’s health care system, already straining as it is with the over 460,000 virus cases so far.

The more cynical are also probably asking, what’s there to celebrate anyway?

The season comes at the tail end of a year extraordinary for its overflow of calamities and disasters, starting with Taal Volcano’s eruption in January and the COVID-19 lockdown in March that has since stalled the economy, with small businesses closing and millions of Filipinos losing their jobs. The year ended with a string of typhoons—“Quinta,” “Rolly,” “Ulysses,” and “Vicky”—that have submerged cities and provinces in murky waters and devastating homes and crops.


The government’s slow and inadequate response to the calamitous virus marked a new low even for an administration fixated on the drug problem. After refusing to stop flights from China in February despite news that virus cases had exploded in Wuhan, the government dilly-dallied on mass testing, acknowledging its importance only nine months after the country’s cases passed the 400,000th mark. The lockdown protocols, meanwhile cracked down on ordinary folk, while shrugging off flagrant violations by appointed officials and the police.

Just five days ahead of Christmas came the horrifying video of an off-duty policeman shooting a mother and son pointblank after a minor altercation. The policeman’s young daughter was also present at the scene. While public outrage has been swift and intense, quite a number have still tried to excuse the killer cop’s actions, refusing to see the larger pattern in the culture of impunity brutalizing the land. Is the country now so inured to extrajudicial killings that such slaughter of ordinary Filipinos has become all but normal to some?

On the individual level, this may yet be one of the bleakest Christmases we’ve had so far, with the loss of the creature comforts people have come to associate with the festive season, and the palpable fraying of the two pillars that have traditionally upheld the holiday spirit: peace on earth and goodwill to all.

At best, Christmas as we know it has been postponed. And maybe, just maybe, all for the best. It has been stripped down to its barest essential: a quiet, prayerful celebration at home with family who has been with us in this roller-coaster ride, and the sharing of food and gifts probably bought online as a show of solidarity with those struggling to make ends meet. Forced to shelter in place, we’ve had the luxury of time to ponder the gifts and the company we won’t be enjoying, and those that, thankfully, we are still able to.


For a start, there’s the gift of health, with medical frontliners and emergency workers becoming the biggest Santa of the season as they work tirelessly to handle virus cases at the risk of their own lives, and for scant, even delayed, pay.

Such sacrifice should make us recall as well Santa’s little helpers—the volunteers, the relief workers, the delivery riders who are otherwise keeping the online economy going, the staff in indispensable places such as drugstores and groceries, the countless citizens who rushed to lend help to their fellow citizens displaced by the pandemic and/or battered by calamities. Amid the foreboding circumstances, such matter-of-fact valiant work sees one’s faith in humanity restored.


On the flip side of the coin, all that corruption, the rot in government, the shabby, blundering way the country’s multiple crises have been handled (and made worse), the opportunistic ways of politicians eyeing the coming elections, have hopefully given us the gift of discernment. Now we know who not to vote for.

While the pandemic has chased us all indoors, it has also given us a necessary pause. This year of extraordinary loss is offering us the valuable insight of making the most of what we have, as the days of want and anxiety stretch on seemingly open-ended for now.

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A bare manger didn’t stop a celebration heralded by angels and kings. May we find the same joy in the cramped, stripped-down holidays we’ve been dealt with this year. Merry Christmas!

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TAGS: 2020, Christmas, Coronavirus, COVID-19, crisis, Disaster, health, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, virus

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