By Maine Manalansan (The Philippine Star), Dec 23, 2016
MANILA, Philippines – For most people, Christmas is a time of celebration. Families shop for gifts together at the mall; they go to Ayala Triangle to take photos at the light show, and go on vacations in far-off places just to replicate the spirit of winter. Even TV and movie characters have their fair share of festivities. In Gilmore Girls, Lorelei and Rory tape the mistletoe to the blades of a ceiling fan (don’t ask), The OC’s Seth Cohen celebrates Chrismukkah (a mix of Christmas and Hanukkah), and almost every Christmas movie made has an awkward/funny dinner scene that nobody would ever wish to be part of. Some of these traditions are a little strange, but they make the holidays feel whole.
Christmas has always been an abstract concept for me. I know that it’s there but I’ve never felt it. It was only recently that I made a conscious effort to feel festive. After everything that happened in 2016, I felt like there’s no better time to force the holiday cheer into my system than this year. Happiness comes from within, as they say, so this year I decided to do just that. I painted my nails glittery red, I started burning my cheap caramel apple candle, and I played Ariana Grande’s “Christmas and Chill EP” on loop. Our house, on the other hand, is still short of Christmas décor as everyone is running around Metro Manila trying to get things done.
I don’t remember spending a lot of time with my family during the holiday season. Being an only child, I’m used to spending my time alone, including Noche Buena. My dad eats outside with all of his friends, my mom eats with our kasambahays, and I eat in my room, alone with Twitter and Tumblr in front of me. It’s not that we’re not close. In fact, we’re quite the opposite of that. It’s just that we never had a solid Christmas tradition to hold on to and it seemed too late to create one just for the sake of it.
Unlike a typical TV/movie family Christmas, we don’t exchange gifts under the tree — I don’t remember having a tree in the past three years — or cook Christmas dinner together. We don’t watch Home Alone in the living room or play board games or even go to the mall on Christmas day. Instead, we plan Christmas parties… for other people.
I remember my parents gifting me something that’s been on my wish list — maybe a responsibility that comes from being fake Santa — for the year. Their generosity is at an all-time high every December; naturally, they extended this to other people. This is when I started losing our house and my parents to big boxes filled with goodies. From Rizal to Naga City, we made it a point to organize mini Christmas parties for children in need. With work and other responsibilities, things get very busy and chaotic. And because of that, we often forget that Christmas is also about spending time with family.
But when we do see each other, we spend some quality time. Yes, we discuss the parties, and no, we still don’t hug by the Christmas tree. But it’s still part of our version of the holidays. While pop culture often portrays a warm and sparkly Christmas, that’s not always the case. It’s a goal, definitely, but not a direct representation of what Christmas should look like.
For us, December is all about obligation and the fact that we do it together is good enough. We still have something to be grateful for and not recognizing that is simply being selfish. I don’t mind not having a non-Christmas if that means other people can have a good holiday season. If there’s one thing that my parents taught me, it’s that Christmas is not just about our family; it’s about other families and them having their own tradition. I guess you could say that’s our Christmas tradition.