[OPINION] Christmas? Bah, humbug!
It’s that time of year again. Most Filipinos know what I am talking about though the rest of the world might find this puzzling. But Filipinos have the longest Christmas season in the world.
And I am officially declaring myself a grouch. I am not going to get into the Christmas spirit. I will not make public declarations of happiness about it. Nope. I won’t. Just won’t. No. Uh-uh. Let me tell you several reasons why.
Buy! Buy! Buy!
Many of my friends and I are truly irritated by stores playing Christmas carols in August. Actually, I am starting a movement right here and now that should unite all Filipinos across the extremely polarized political divide: next year if you hear stores play Christmas carols in July, August or September – march straight out the door and do not buy. I would personally extend my boycott to October. (I know this is controversial because, some Filipinos think it is appropriate to declare Christmas in October.)
I do not know if their market studies show that playing Christmas carols as early as August causes people to buy more. Regardless. We should protest against this cynical manipulation of our good cheer for commercial purposes. I especially object to the manipulation when the carols are sung ala Stars on 45.
The stores will of course continue to play these carols with more frequency as we get closer to Christmas. And I know they are still doing it out of the cynical manipulation of our good cheer. But hey, I can excuse them for trying to capture the good cheer around this time of year towards consumerist spending. What I cannot forgive is manufactured good cheer for the sake of their bottom line.
Besides, by this time, any good cheer I might have developed has been drowned out by the mediocrity of Stars on 45. The way I understand it, my Christian dearies are celebrating the birth of the Son of God, the lamb whose sacrifice has paid for all our sins. I love the lyrics that reach to this height of magnificence:
The heavens sing, “Hallelujah."
“Hallelujah,” Earth replies.
Such majestic sentiments about the mostest, over-the-topest, earth-shakingest event, ever ever, are best sung in Cathedrals that reach up to the sky by a thousand joyous voices in a choir. Well trained voices. Voices disciplined into unity by the choirmaster. That I can enjoy. These songs of utmost praise sung in a genre that I personally believe represents the nadir of popular culture – dislike, down-vote, yuck.
Dear reader, I am not Christian. Like 6% of the Filipino people I belong to a different belief system. I am very happy for my friends and other loved ones who are celebrating their god. It is their good cheer I wish to tap into. But since this is vicarious enjoyment, it can spoil very easily.
A plea for sensitivity
Perhaps I would still not be such a grouch if the only ones raining on the parade were the merchants. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be the insensitivity of Christians themselves who are supposed to share their goodwill.
Recently I reposted a meme that said, "Some people don’t want to take part in your religion. That’s called ‘freedom’ not ‘A War on Christmas’.” So when I receive a message from some FB friend that says, “use Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays” well...I drink a gallon of polite juice to quiet the legion of grouches within me.
So I do ask my Christian dearies to decide whether they want me share in their wonderful celebration or not. I am very respectful of these deeply held beliefs. And I do want to show respect – join or stay away – I can do both. But the assumption that I am a Christian when I am not, that is well..polite juice, please!
Yet all these reasons for grouchiness I can overcome. I could be less of a grouch if it were not for my work with bipolar mood disorder and grieving.
I am not the only counselor whose work increases during Christmas. The frenzy often induces mania in my patients. Or the manufactured and automatic assumption that we are all happy, causes isolation and deeper unhappiness for those struggling with grief or depression. One of my gauges for what is wrong with the way some people celebrate Christmas is that many do not find peace but frenetic stimulation during the season.
Surely we are not getting the right message across if instead of the resounding and deep joy the season should bring to most Filipinos, what comes across is the enforced cheer of a fascist summer camp.
So I have my Christmas routine. In the middle of December I bring out my Christmas carol collection – you guessed it, all sung by the best choirs. Closer to Christmas I am already enjoying Handel’s Messiah. Then my mostly agnostic nuclear family joins my Catholic in-laws for Christmas Eve. Then we go off on Christmas travels or stay at home and chill.
I join the Christian world in its joy for these two weeks. I celebrate in solidarity for many people I love and respect are Christians. But I do it quietly.
But for the sake of my patients and others who deserve my support, I am an official grouch. I am a walking one-woman beacon to all those who find this season difficult. I am the great petitioner for sensitivity from the Christian majority.
Please remember that some of us are not Christian. Though that may not be a problem for those of us who have learned to be generous to the presumptuous, please be aware that you are not entitled to such generosity though we are entitled to your sensitivity. Indeed, perhaps we could get into a nice cycle of reciprocal generosity and sensitivity.
More importantly a number of those who are your fellow human beings, many of them your Christian brethren, cannot be happy at this time. And perhaps for these people you must show them the compassionate face of a more reflexive joy that the birth of Christ brings. – Rappler.com
Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a Doctor of Medicine and a PhD in Psychology. She can usually be found sowing in the fields of academia. She is normally a happy sower except during Christmas.