Examining Christmas traditions

Candice Lopez-quimpo
How do you celebrate Christmas? Why? A non-religious parent tells us about her family's evolving — but meaningful — Christmas traditions.

THE ESSENCE OF CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS. It differs for every family, in manner and reason. Image by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Filipino Christmas is generally marked by religious tradition. It can’t be helped; we are a country that is predominantly Catholic, baptized as babies, and schooled for years under its influence.

It is, then, a tricky situation for the non-religious celebrate the Christmas season in a country where devoted mass-goers rise at dawn, Nativity plays are practically protocol in schools, and the belen is laid out in a prominent place in many a Filipino’s home. 

Questioning personal convictions 

The one reality about this season is the stress and the rush that escalate as Christmas day gets nearer. 

Are the parties in order? Is the gift list being accomplished? What about the inaanaks? Is the Christmas tree up and gorgeous? Do we have sufficient holiday décor (and will it impress the neighbors)? Where are we spending the holidays? What are we eating for Noche Buena? Where will we be on Christmas Day? Uso pa ba ang aginaldo? What, another reunion?

The hustle and the bustle of the holiday season can ruthlessly cloak whatever meaning it holds for anyone, religious or not.

But what does this season really mean for us? What are we celebrating? 

I think this is a question that can reveal very personal answers. Step out of the traditions and to-do lists for a moment and find out what the fuss is all about.

Tradition and cultural beliefs are wonderful practices to uphold, but only with a caveat: They need to hold true relevance.

Otherwise, they’re just movement without conviction.

Celebrating with family 

What matters greatly to many Filipinos at Christmastime is the occasion to gather family. 

Do you need to gather at midnight mass? Well, yes, if that’s important to you. But it may not be that significant for others. And it turns out, for some Filipinos, mass is not always part of the Christmas program.

A Christmas without divine blessing? How pagan! How sacrilegious!

Let’s not get started with that — reserve judgments for another day.

When families take the time to gather during Christmas, regardless of religion and beliefs, what do you think is the reason?

The ties that bind are that of love, in a way that defies questions, misunderstandings, and differences.

So maybe the Noche Buena menu takes centerstage instead of a gospel reading or singing of Hallelujah. Maybe it’s the opening of gifts, or the kids playing together, or just being in shared space that defines a special Christmas Eve. 

In the last years, I have allowed Santa to be the star in my child’s eyes without a peep about Jesus, Mary, or Joseph.

It is a most blatant defiance of Catholic tradition, but let me tell you: This is our tradition. 

The way I see it (the way we like to do it), it is about a sense of wonder and faith in something good. Whether or not the man is real — we all know what the end game is here — is not something we dwell on at that moment.

How many chances do you get to create a magical moment for a child? Christmas and Santa and the family being happy together seem to fit the bill.

Until the child is grown, I know. In time, our traditions will change.

A family evolves, after all.

Giving and receiving

Christmas, too — we like to say — is the season for giving. Surely, this is something we do not tamper with.

But it is something we can definitely explore and push further. What do you give and to whom and why?

The obvious answer is to give to the “least fortunate.” Charity events, donations, little Christmas parties start littering calendars and lists.

That is all well and good. Even better if you do that all year round.

Which means, come Christmas, you’ll need to step it up much higher.

In fact, it is during the Christmas season that it is easiest to share of your self with others because so many people are organizing activities and drives to make the season special for those who can’t afford it.

We all agree: Christmas is about opening doors, hearts, and pockets. Even in the simplest manner. There is no minimum age required — trust me.

Last year, I learned about a volunteer activity that entailed fostering orphans for a day of fun and games in Manila Zoo. I enlisted myself and my son, then just turned 6, to share our time and some simple gifts. 

It was one of the best things I could have done for the holidays. The kids had fun, my child included. 

I don’t think I explained to him that the reason for our being there was to celebrate Christmas with others. For him, I found out as the day ended, it was one enormous playdate. 

He also thought we get to take a kid home. 

It took some explaining and some pacifying to drive into his young brain that he had just made another kid very happy by simply playing and giving someone else his full attention.

In the end, it turned out that my kid received as much as he gave that day.

I think we’ll need to reminisce about that tomorrow. When we write to Santa, we’ll need to think beyond the toys and chocolates.

Maybe we should add some wishes for other people as well. Now that our context has grown, this addition to the tradition is appropriate, relevant, and personal. 

And as I have said, I expect to be changing our Christmas traditions anyway. – Rappler.com

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