Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Updated 09:52pm (Mla time) Dec 24, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A10 of the December 25, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

CHRISTMAS comes but once a year but it is an event that should be celebrated every day. This is not an original thought, to be sure, but it is something worth repeating to remind us of the eternal message of the Star of Bethlehem. Dutifully remembered on this day by the faithful, it is soon forgotten with the dismantling of the festive lights.

The birth of the Infant Child was originally regarded by the Christian world as a spiritual reawakening to the righteousness that God expected of His mortal creatures. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men (and women and children too) was the lesson His Son had come down to this world to teach its sinners. Quietly proclaimed in the Holy Manger, it was to be scorned in the hill on Calvary but resurrected with the risen Lord. That lesson has yet to be fully learned.

Today, regrettably, the true meaning of Christmas has been debased with the crass of commercialism and the profit motive. It has become the quasi-religious excuse for the reverence of money as the new god of a congregation grown materialistic. Gift-giving has ceased to be the sincere manifestation of love, affection, loyalty, gratitude and goodwill to persons of simple grace. To many, it has become the expected and sometimes even demanded exhibition of reluctant tribute or plain bribery for questionable concessions.

O Christmas, O Christmas, to vary the doomed Madame Roland's lament of liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name! How many sins are concealed behind the facade of generosity and joy that the day projects.

The law prohibits giving public officials expensive presents as compulsory compensation for past favors or hopeful inducements for future benefits. These are not allowed the whole year round but the Yuletide may be used as a convenient excuse for such selfish magnanimity.

Simple tokens of thoughtfulness are allowed to express the merriment of the season but not as gratitude money paid to the corrupt in hopes of their continued depravity. Baskets of fruits and canned goods, while innocent-looking enough, may conceal sinister efforts in the guise of generosity to poison integrity and weaken the will.

Gifts abound during this season of giving, but are they given from the heart as the true spirit of Christmas commands? The wallet can be a source of goodies but not of goodness. Lavish gifts--of cash, jewelry, foreign travels, cars, house and lots, and other bestowals from the rich--can provide immense pleasure to those who do not need it. But they become bitter taunts to those who beg for the bare necessities of life like food for their empty bellies, medicines to heal their wounds, clothes for their bare bodies, a humble abode in the crowded slums.

Happily, these somber thoughts do not enervate the true meaning of Christmas for the majority of our people even in these cynical times. There are still many of us who, regardless of age, believe in Santa Claus, of reindeer racing with the wind, of a reformed Ghost of Christmas Future with Scrooge no longer a spoilsport tightwad but an open-handed giver.

It is the children who are the true believers in Christmas. They still believe in the blessings of gold, frankincense and myrrh that the Wise Men gave the new-born Babe. And the happy thought is that many of us are still children like them, though the years may have wrinkled our skin but not our spirits. Like them, we believe that Santa Claus continues to dwell in the recesses of our faith and makes us not mere heedless hedonists but caring human beings.

Caring for the plight of others is one of the virtues of our race, and we are again proving it during these desperate days. Many Filipinos, from all walks of life, including those with little to spare for themselves and their families, are showing this with acts of charity and selflessness for the benefit of the victims of the disasters that have left them homeless but not hopeless. The typhoons may have deprived them of their belongings but not of their friends with their helping hands.

The men and women who grieve for their stricken fellow human beings believe that the unfortunates among us also deserve, as we all do, to enjoy the delights of Christmas as the birthday of the Lord. That is why many of them have decided to do away with their usual Christmas parties, or at least lessen the former extravagance, and instead donate what they will be saving from this frugality to the needy families in the typhoon areas.

This is a sacrifice that beggars the decision of the members of the House of Representatives to reduce their pork barrel allowances that, in fact, should be given entirely to the disaster victims. This altruism is in sharp contrast with the cupidity, the unconscionable cupidity, of the so-called representatives of the people.

Sorry if I may have dampened your enjoyment of this loveliest feast of Christendom, as it is described in today's homilies. Have I preached a sermon too? I apologize if I have, but my intention was to describe what I think is the real meaning of Christmas as it was proclaimed 2,000 years ago. It is to share one's blessings with others, especially the less blessed among us.

A Merry Christmas to one and all!


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