Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas-crossing the poverty line

I know people who are trying to have an “alternative Christmas” by doing away with the excessive external trimmings and carousing that daunt those who can’t keep up, by making quiet efforts to really reach out to those who are in pain or are extremely needy, not just during the Christmas season but beyond it.

But why call it “alternative” when that is what Christmas is supposed to be--a giving season? Not a mindless exchange-gifts season but a giving season. Not just among family, friends, colleagues and pesky gift collectors at the gate but with families and individuals who need a real boost in order to cross the poverty line.

What better gift than an opportunity for one family or one person to step over and cross the poverty line? It may come in the form of a little capital, a scholarship (you need not be the one to pay for it, but you could search for it), a new skill, a new road, a new market. Those with some power and influence can easily make things happen. How about that?

Christmas Day is a week away and I make alive again the memory of a wondrous Christmas. One of the happiest Christmases I experienced as an adult was spent in a special place with very special people, in an atmosphere of simplicity and prayer. I remember the feel of the mountain air, the soft scent of the pine, and the soothing hum of the universe that wafted into my soul.

The December flowers were in full bloom, the hills were green and throbbing with life. The stars were out the night we gathered around the manger to sing hymns, and the sun rose gently from behind the hills on Christmas morning. The quiet and the peace overwhelmed me in a way I could not explain. I was filled with awe and wonderment.

I had experienced community--and communion. This is indeed Christmas, I thought then, as I pondered the beauty of its simplicity, as I gazed at the people I had come to love and cherish until today.

But that was long ago and far away and there would not be another Christmas like that again. That is, in the same place and circumstance and with the same people. But the memory lives on.


But Christmases are not always pleasant for many.

If I were an extra-terrestrial, I would wonder why many earthlings seem troubled and harassed during the season they call Christmas, the season when millions all over the world commemorate the birth of the Child Jesus-- considered redeemer, messiah, Son of God, founder of Christianity, etcetera. Why do they celebrate the birth of Jesus in so many un-Jesus ways?

As an E.T. I would wonder why many people become suicidal during this season, why the sad feel saddest, the poor feel poorest, the down and out are tempted to find a bloody way out of this world.

Why do many act like fools, scurrying and hurrying until they drop dead because of exhaustion? Why do many people who call themselves Christians collect, extort, solicit and harass strangers for gifts? It is nowhere near the simplicity that surrounded the birth of the man they call Jesus.

And so it has come to pass...that Christmas is now a most cruel season. It excludes more than it includes. This is the time people feel worse than worst when they are at their worst. Meaning, the season aggravates whatever it is they are already suffering from. The poor feel poorest, the hungry feel hungriest, the lonely feel loneliest, the sad feel saddest, the abandoned feel like abandoning the world. Wounds bleed. Ask the rejected, the betrayed, the bereaved.

And I can’t help thinking now of those whose lives have recently been visited by violence and disasters.

This is because the Christmas season is supposed to be a season of joy and peace and plenty (?) and togetherness and sharing and reaching out. You don’t have one or all of the above during Christmas--you’re out, eat the dust. And so in trying to make it all happen so that Christmas would turn out to be “happy”, people pay the price with their health and sanity. Many suffer from the “Christmas syndrome”, which is something like a heart attack but which is not. It should be called the “Christmas rush syndrome” to differentiate it from the Christmas blues of the depressives and those who suffer from the winter-induced seasonal affective disorder in snow countries.

The media help dictate the ingredients of a happy Christmas. They conjure up images of what it should be--tables groaning with food, good looks, well-lit homes, gifts galore, complete families. If that is what it is, a happy Christmas seems to be beyond the reach of many.

It is partly their fault that they feel morose when they can’t have all the ingredients that they believe should be there for a Christmas to be really joyful.

And so you hear people sigh in the wake of the Christmas season, “Hay, nakaraos din.” Like, by the skin of their teeth, they survived. It is a hurdle for those who think they could hardly measure up. Nakaraos means they survived the shopping rush in the malls and tiangges, the traffic, preparing for the guests and the reunions, making both ends meet and most of all, the emptiness. They even survived the horrendous, distracted crowd in church and the priest’s boring homilies.

TV’s “Survivor” should do a season on Christmas.

Where has the real Christmas gone? Time and again I have always wanted to see a “Christmas Movement” that would encourage people to go back to where Christmas all began, to unlock the simplicity that it stood for and the joy that included all. The churches have been overtaken by the malls, they have not succeeded in drawing people back to the spirit of where it all began and inspiring them to live it. You just have to find the real Christmas yourself.