Ok this is going to make me sound like a real-life Grinch, but I haven’t felt the Christmasy vibe in a long, long time.
BREAKING UP WITH SANTA
I can remember the first time Christmas lost its magic for me. When we were kids, my parents really, really made a production out of Santa Claus. Every year, we would get two gifts; one from my parents, and one from “Santa.”
And because Santa had an entire factory at his disposal, he always gave the better, grander gifts. For instance, I would get a Barbie doll from my parents, but Santa would pimp her up with a Barbie car. He would even draw elaborate maps and hide the gifts in the most obscure places. It was pretty awesome.
But then one year, I was around 9 years old, instead of the usual scavengers’ hunt, my Santa gift was simply placed on my bed. Attached to it was a letter.
Basically, I was informed in flowery words that: Every year, Santa had to hustle double time to accommodate more and more kids being born. And since his elves were ridiculously overworked, he needed to stop giving gifts to the bigger children so he could make room for the younger ones. I was a big girl now, he explained; big enough to understand that he had to make way for the younger kids who still needed him.
I couldn’t believe it. I got my first it’s-not-you-it’s-me breakup letter. And from Santa freakin’ Claus. He did not even have the decency to do it in person.
Men. Are. Shmucks.
Shortly thereafter, my cousin (yes Achie, talking about you here) totally ruined it for me by stating matter-of-factly that Santa was not real. I was just getting gifts from my parents all along; in fact, she helped my dad write the controversial letter.
FORCED HAPPINESS MAKES ME MELANCHOLIC
As a full-fledged adult- I find a Christmas a tad bit overhyped (yeah I said it).
The bright Christmas lights… the over the top Christmas decorations… and don’t even get me started on the Christmas Carols…
Around the start of the season, my husband and I were checked in a hotel in Ortigas. And just when we were about to enter the elevator, a choir started belting out Christmas tunes. We turned to each other almost at the same time. “Aw, this is nice…” he exclaimed just as I made a sour face and said under my breath, “Yikes!”
I super thought we were on the same boat! A little embarrassed, I tried to explain as succinctly as possible, “the sopranos freak me out.” He of course, looked at me as if I was insane.
I don’t know. I guess it’s just the way the season forces you to be thankful and happy that makes me more sullen and cranky (I’ve always had a contrary streak).
CHRISTMAS IS HIGH-WAY ROBBERY
As a Catholic school kid, we were always reminded that Christmas is a time for giving; I took this to heart. Whenever I got Christmas money from my parents, I would blow 99% of it on gifts.
As an adult however, giving until it hurts took on an entire different meaning. The nuns never explained that without mom and dad’s money to buffer your day-to-day expenses, you can actually come out of the holiday season on the verge of bankruptcy. From handing out employee bonuses, to shelving out for potlucks and numerous Christmas feasts, to spending on litres of gas as you desperately navigate through horrendous traffic, everything costs money!
Of course, the bulk of the amount goes into gift shopping. My Christmas list has now ballooned into unmanageable proportions. Aside from family and friends, I have a whopping 21 god children. I could now single-handedly cover Fully Booked’s employee bonuses.
Then, there are also all these “Christmas envelopes” that you have to take care of. Just yesterday, some punk from PLDT was making a ruckus outside because he wanted to give us our bill in person. Of course, it came with a Christmas envelope. He insisted on waiting for it too. Since when did these things become mandatory? The nerd!
The funny thing is, you spend months making a mad dash for gifts, obsessing about decorations (I gave up this year. I just asked Manang to put up a Christmas tree and to scrounge through all old mismatched decorations) and coordinating with friends for Christmas reunions; but before you know it, the season’s over. We spend more time preparing for Christmas than actually experiencing it. It just seems a tad anticlimactic.
THE GRINCH GETS SCHOOLED
My husband, who was absolutely horrified to discover that he married a Christmas Grinch (I kept it well under wraps for years. I’m very good at faking peppiness), sat me down and asked me why I was being a Debbie Downer.
I explained how I finally got what dad used to say; Christmas is really just for kids.
When you’re an adult, you realize that it’s not sparkly and magical. It actually takes a lot of forced, behind the scenes work. There’s no Santa Claus who will buy the presents for you, that Christmas tree doesn’t miraculously fix itself, and that Christmas feast that you enjoy takes half a day to prepare. It just involves so much effort. And I would rather skip it altogether this year, thank you very much.
He just looked at me and reasoned out quite calmly, “but isn’t that the nice thing about it? Everyone makes an effort”.
Okay. This doesn’t happen very often, but husband kinda put me in my place. Usually I spout the simple life lessons and he’s left to marvel at the wisdom of the woman he married.
But as excruciating as it is to admit; in this case, he is Ghost of Christmas Wisdom – and I am the greedy Scrooge out to infect people with my misery.
THE UN-MAGICNESS OF CHRISTMAS MAKES IT MAGICAL
Slowly, his words started to percolate and I started seeing things in a different light. Here I am a grown-ass woman, expecting Christmas magic to hit me as brightly as those damn lights in Ayala Avenue. But if I had only stopped and looked, I would see subtle Christmas magic everywhere.
My parents, when they were still alive, always made an effort to make everything just so. My mom, who never cooked, would slave over the kitchen the whole day, making lasagna (her specialty) and other dishes for Noche Buena. My dad, who was crazy kuripot, would, during New Years’ buy an obscene amount of fireworks so he could put up a show that could rival the ones in MOA. As I got older, I realized that this was not something they preferred to do. Nothing would make them happier than just skipping the holidays themselves. They were doing it mainly for us, their children.
(I can’t speak for Det, because he’s always been the naturally peppy one) I in turn, would put up a wow-this-is-awesome front for my parents: I didn’t have the heart to tell my mom that I was a little too full to eat her lasagna and my dad that I actually have outgrown the fireworks. So my entire family (except for cheery Det) would put up a forced holiday show for each other. Everytime I looked back at those days, I would get a bit sad. I mean, we were steady and happy on regular days, but why did our holidays seemed so put on?
Now I realize, that it’s actually weirdly beautiful. We had some sort of sick “Gift of the Magi” thing going on – and we were doing it because we loved each other.
I also look back at the months I spent obsessing about my personalized gifts; or the absolute confusion I go through while hoarding children’s books (I’ve given out so much I kinda lost track of which book I gave to whom); and realize that even though it takes me forever to prepare the presents, and the recipients just a minute to open them, the momentary joy that I see in their eyes makes all of it worth it.
During a Christmas gathering, I gave books to Moe’s best friend’s daughter, Dani. Dani doesn’t warm up to people very easily, and since we hardly ever see her, she always kept a safe distance from us. But when we handed her the books, she cuddled up to me so I could read to her. I absolutely melted! Mitch, her dad, even messaged us that when her nanny started reading her another book, she requested, “Please read like Auntie Pia.” (Bisaya daw kasi si yaya). Christmas spirit restored!
I can now look back at hours we spend in traffic on our way to a Christmas reunion and appreciate that my even busier friends, who had their careers and family and other friends to juggle, had chosen to also brave the traffic to spend time with us. (Caleen, one of my best friends had just moved in her new house and had just finished vigorously cleaning the bathroom when she arrived for our Christmas reunion. A for effort, dude!)
I appreciate how my friends and their parents, knowing that Moe and I are parent-less, have invited us to their intimate Christmas Eve family gathering. (Love you Romeros and Ataydes!) I appreciate how my brother spontaneously made an effort to learn how to make mom’s lasagna, so we can have a taste of an old family tradition.
I have come to realize that Christmas is even lovelier as an adult; because you now know the production that goes behind every little Christmas gesture.
Here I am so busy looking for the effortless Christmas I had as a kid that I missed the entire point of the season. Christmas isn’t about looking for magic for magic for yourself. It’s making sure that it’s magical for everyone else.