Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 23 December 2017


It is two days before Christmas, Reader—two “tulogs” to go—and I am delighted to report that the Christmas spirit came upon me just about a week ago. In fact it came when, after a false start, I attended the Misa de Gallo this year in my parish church, the Santuario de San Antonio. I haven’t missed a day since, and no, I don’t drowse off.

Exactly what is the spirit of Christmas is hard to explain. Easier to explain what it is not. So I will start with that.

The Christmas spirit is certainly not what we have been force-fed since the “ber” months started last September—mostly on what to buy for your loved ones, or how to hint for what you want, or the “exchange gifts.”

Don’t get me wrong, dear Reader. I love to give and receive gifts as much as the next person, but there are gifts and there are GIFTS. And no, the difference between small caps and large caps is not money or prices. The GIFTS that are treasured are the ones into which the giver has put a lot of thought—a jar of wild honey, a rice substitute the purchase of which will help indigenous people at the same time, the best suman sa lihiya ever, a box of really flaky homemade empanadas, a jar of pickled ampalaya. Gifts that give me joy, because there was thought put into it, or because they were homemade, and therefore made with love.

Of course one appreciates gift baskets, but sometimes one gets the feeling that they are given to emphasize the wealth and importance of the giver, or that they were given because their cost was no less than a certain amount—P5,000, P10,000, or P15,000, depending on who or how important the recipient is. Those gifts do not the spirit of Christmas make.

Now, for the What Is.

I know that the spirit of Christmas has come to me when I look forward to the day because it is Christ’s birthday, and I am excited to greet Him.

I know that I have the spirit of Christmas when I listen to the homilies of the priests, and look for the message they are trying to impart, rather than get easily distracted by mispronounced words or a heavy accent.

I know that I have the spirit of Christmas when I dwell on what must have happened 2,000 years ago, and begin to feel what the shepherds, and the Magi, and Joseph and Mary must have felt. Even Herod. In other words, they are not just characters and events in a far-off story. I feel that I am actually a witness to what happened.

I know that I have the spirit of Christmas when I hear a Christmas carol, and don’t relegate it as background noise (because it has been dinned into our ears since September), white or otherwise. I listen. And I appreciate. “Silent Night.” “Away in a Manger.” “Little Drummer Boy.” “Do You Hear What I Hear?” “Joy to the World.” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Etc., etc. I have vowed to listen to them throughout the year.

And finally, I know that I feel the spirit of Christmas when I try so much harder to feel what the less fortunate than I are experiencing, and to treat them as if they were the Christ. Understand that most often I don’t succeed, but I definitely try harder. And I am really grateful for what the Lord has given me.

How about you, Reader? Has the spirit of Christmas come upon you? If not yet, or if you think you are already jaded, may I recommend that tomorrow, Sunday morning, you attend the last Misa de Gallo. There is something about waking up earlier (think of it as a sacrifice), and walking to church (try to walk; if not, go to church early) in the December cold that gets you. Works for me.

And during the walk (or in church before the service), take the opportunity to greet Father God, and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. And Mama Mary and Papa Joseph, and then the angels and saints (archangels, guardian angels and favorite saints, all named) and your deceased loved ones (also named). You are at one with them.

Give praise and thanksgiving. And ask them to help you get into the Christmas spirit. It works.

A blessed and happy Christmas to all.

In last week’s column, a part of the third to the last paragraph should have read: “(Justice Antonio Carpio was appointed by Arroyo, too. He is the exception that proves the rule.)”