A less festive Christmas season

"Kindness has no price tag."



Christmas has always been the biggest and grandest holiday in the Philippines. The season is said to be the longest in the world as it starts on day one of the “ber” months—September 1. On this day, Jose Mari Chan’s “Christmas in Our Hearts” is played over the radio, in malls, and other public places making it the “official” kick-off song of the season.

From mid-October until November 1, it is common to see shops displaying and selling Christmas décor alongside Halloween paraphernalia, a novelty to foreigners visiting the country.

2018 is no exemption. The familiar song was played and friends were ribbing one another as September came because they said, this is going to be a different Christmas season. I think they are correct. December 25 is but a few days away but the Christmas “air” has yet to be felt. Malls’ and shops’ decorations for the holidays are much less and not as grand. Many shops still do not have Christmas decorations.

The streets are the same. There are much fewer holiday lanterns and lights. Take the case of Quezon City for instance, the huge Quezon City Memorial Circle and the City Hall used to be very festive and ablaze with lights of all colors, shapes and sizes. This is not the case this year. The QCMC looks almost bereft of its usual holiday trimmings. The place looks sad and dreary compared with seasons past.

Homeowners also seem to be feeling less “Christmassy.” I enjoy driving around at night just to look at Christmas decorations of houses. I even take the long route to home so I can see more homes decked for the holidays. This year, I do not see much. At least where I live, it appears to me that many homes are taking a break from the holidays, or are just too busy, or lazy to put up decorations.

By this time, people should be on a mad rush for their Christmas shopping. Malls should be brimming with people. However, get in one and there is hardly any crowd. I randomly talked with Grab drivers about the absence of crowds in shopping areas and all of them had the same observation. One driver told me that everyone is in Divisoria and Tanay where goods are cheaper than in malls. He said that he went to Divisoria and it was overflowing with people.

Why does this season seem sadder, less festive?

Inflation may be a big culprit. Even if people want to spend, they may not have the money to do so. The significant increase in prices of goods and services resulting from the passage of the TRAIN law is very real and people, even the middle class, are feeling the pinch. I have spoken with several friends and all of them said that they are having a difficult time. Christmas this year is going to be austere for them as they try to prioritize only what they really need for the holidays. One said, “No peso can be wasted.”

If my middle-class friends are taking measures to tighten their belts, I wonder how the ordinary folk in poor communities are faring. The last time I went to Payatas and Bagong Silang, I asked the women I work with how they will be spending their holidays. All, except one said that there is nothing to look forward to. They are not formally employed so there is no 13th month pay or bonuses to speak of. They said that they did not know if they would have the traditional “noche buena” because there was no way to tell if they would have money for Christmas. The exception to this “rule” said that she was expecting some money from her daughter, a domestic helper in Hong Kong.

No wonder, there are no crowds in malls and people are doing their holiday shopping in Divisoria.

There are also those who only shop online for what they want or need for the holidays. Friends who do this said that the very bad traffic all over the metro dissuades them from going out and doing the rounds of malls. So much precious time is wasted on the road, so they take the alternative: online shopping from the comfort of their homes or offices and the purchased goods are delivered to their doorsteps.

Another advantage of online shopping is one only buys what one needs or really wants. The “danger” to go on binge shopping is much less because one is not tempted to buy others things one sees in malls. This way, overspending is easier to prevent.

Even food for “Noche Buena” is bought online, delivered to them cooked and ready to be served. A good friend called this her “no hassle, no cooking, noche buena.”

A different Christmas has been a topic in several events I have gone to. Some friends interestingly asserted that the present state of the country and politics are two important factors why the holidays will be celebrated differently by many people. They alleged that because of the highly uncertain and possibly volatile situation, people, especially those with money will be careful in spending their resources. The political uncertainties like charter change and federalism will make the rich take a wait-and-see attitude and will not spend as much for the holidays.

The killings that continue make people nervous and will choose to stay safe. Moneyed people will probably spend the holidays outside of the country, or throw parties in secure places so they will not have to deal with the dangers of getting randomly killed.

Indeed this is a different, less festive Christmas season. Still, we should make the season meaningful by sharing with the less fortunate among us. Kindness has no price tag. Let this be our gift to one another. No matter the difficulties, I still wish everyone happy holidays!

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Elizabeth Angsioco , Christmas season
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