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Friday, July 19, 2024

Christmas in our hearts

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“In God’s great love for us, He will never leave us alone.”

The yearly Christmas celebration in the Philippines is arguably the longest in the world. It is often remarked that with the start of the ‘-ber’ months, so does Christmas in the country begin. The actual celebration however starts nine dawn masses celebrated in anticipation of Christ’s birth on December 25.

But the more intriguing question is, when does Christmas in the Philippines actually end? For most homes, the festivities and fanfare would last into New Year’s Day, when families and friends continue to come together for reunions and gatherings. Most people would take a weeklong break from work, taking the opportunity to return to their hometowns and provinces.

For Filipino Catholics, Christmas would last until January 6, the traditional date for the feast of the Epiphany, thereby completing the 12 of Christmas. Others would wait until February 2, the feast commemorating the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem, to finally put down their Christmas decorations and finally bid adieu to three to four months of the Christmas holidays.

January would also be the month of our cherished Catholic feasts – that of the ‘traslacion’ or the transfer of the revered image of the Black Nazarene to its shrine in Quiapo and of course, the festival honoring the Santo Niño, one of the oldest icons of the Child Jesus brought to these islands 500 years ago.

The continuing restrictions caused by the recent surge in the coronavirus pandemic has significantly changed the way we celebrate these feasts and festivities of recent weeks. From in-person gatherings of family and friends, many had to content themselves with online Christmas parties. From waking up early to complete the nine-day Misa de Gallo, others decided to settle for an “online attendance.” From the yearly tradition of going back to their hometowns and provinces, many families decided to forego their annual trips and stay home for the holidays.

More than two years of the pandemic has clearly changed our way of life as we know it. While many of the restrictions have somewhat been subdued compared to how things were last year, still an air of uncertainty and even discomfort about the lingering coronavirus pandemic remains to affect not only our holiday plans but even the way we interact with each other.

True, these worries and fears were not totally unfounded. As the year ended, another surge of coronavirus infections happened, owing to either the new Omicron variant or simply the careless disregard for the minimum health standards. With the cases number about a hundred a few days before yearend, cases were back at more than 20,000 just more than a week after. This left many perplexed and concerned that we will be back to where we were at the beginning of this crisis.

However, it is important to note that despite the surge in infections, an overwhelming number have resulted in mild cases. This is a welcome scenario in our many health facilities, where it was once feared that a resurgence of cases would once more burden our limited hospital capacity. While this is no reason for complacency, clearly our ability to deal with the virus, given also the number of vaccinated persons in previous months, have left our community with a good fighting chance.

Christmas comes and goes every year – and although we may celebrate it the same way – putting the same Christmas decorations, singing the same carols and exchanging the same gifts – Christmas comes to us differently every year. It comes to us amid the circumstances that surround us every given year – and we receive its message of joy and hope differently as our times warrant.

As it is often said, it is not a question of when this pandemic will end but how. Our ability to be resilient despite the shifting demands of this crisis will shape our capacity not only to survive but more importantly even to thrive. Our willingness to embrace the new normal of doing things as required by our safety and health protocols as well as to have ourselves vaccinated could prove to be the only lasting cure to this pandemic. Our generosity to share what we have to those who are left with too little could do more to correct the injustices and inequalities that for so long inflicted our society.

In the end, Christmas gives us the same reason to hope, and to find joy in the company of family and friends. It assures us the continuing presence of Christ who lived among us, and shared the griefs and pains, as well as the joys and fulfillment of our human experience. Christmas reminds us of that truth that God meets us in all the challenges and adversities of life.

After Christmas, comes the New Year, and soon after the feast of the Santo Niño. It fittingly reminds us that while we may have to resign to fate and say life may have to go on no matter what, hope will continue to spring eternal. The same Christ who was born in Bethlehem, and grew up in Nazareth knew exactly every aspect of our human condition. Our celebration of Christmas may have to end at one point, but not its message of God’s enduring presence in human history, and that in his great love for us, he will never leave us alone.

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