Today is my fifth Christmas away. If you had told me years ago that I would someday spend the holidays thousands of miles from my family and friends I would probably have a hard time believing you. But the truth is, I kind a like spending it abroad. There I said it…
I find that this may sound sacrilegious, especially to my kababayans, so I hope you allow me to explain. For the non-Filipinos reading, it is true that there is nothing like Christmas back home, especially during Christmas Eve, when families get together to share a special dinner. And these are things that expatriates miss the most, and for some Filipinos would never admit to being truly happy spending Christmas away – and that is of course understandable.
Christmas in the Philippines is perhaps the biggest most anticipated time of the year. In fact we are so crazy about it that it unofficially starts in October, when you begin to hear Christmas carols being played at a house or on a radio, or decorations slowly cropping up all over. During the primetime news, a nightly countdown of the days before Christmas closes the show.
And the closer it arrives, the crazier things get. Traffic jams become absolutely ridiculous and parties spring up everywhere that you will need list everything down. Aside from the one you will have with your family, you will also need to prepare for the office Christmas party, your circle of friends, your high school friends, college friends, your boy/girlfriend’s family’s party, your boy/girlfriend’s office party, your boy/girlfriend’s circle of friend’s party, your boy/girlfriend’s high school friend’s party, your boy/girlfriend’s college friend’s party. Basically as you get older, Christmas becomes a tedious array of wrapping gifts, and now-a-days the theme is have costume or themed inspired parties you have to prepare for, a whirlwind of expenses, sugar-rush, and if you are really unlucky a bunch of gifts consisting of mugs and/or frames in every color.
In the Philippines, crime rate also sadly goes up a notch during the holidays. The criminal minds are of course aware that many are blessed with their Christmas bonus (13th month pay as we call back-home), and are on the prowl to take advantage of it. I once witnessed the “Bukas Kotse Gang” in action. “Bukas Kotse” is Filipino for “open the car”. The S.O.P. of this particular gang is that during the Christmas heavy, bumper-to-bumper, traffic jams (redundancy was intentional for emphasis), these guys would walk down the road and start opening random cars stuck in the traffic, and would grab your bag or wallet, or cellphone, or whatever they can run away with. You of course would be unaware, and would not be able to run after them either from shock or since your vehicle is stuck there.
Fire is also rampant during the holidays, because as part of being practical and yet wanting to take part of the customs, people buy faulty Christmas lights that causes such disasters.
So you could see why it is easy to get caught up in all the hoolabaloo, and just find yourself losing touch of what Christmas should really be all about. However these true meanings are hidden within the core of all the other stressful things I just mentioned.
As it is perhaps all over the world, Christmas in the Philippines is of course also the time for family, for reunions, for burying the hatchet, for love, for giving, for the children, for the Christians a time to celebrate the birthday of the Lord Jesus. At the heart of it all, especially the family and reunion parts, these things I miss most about Christmas back at home. But the rest of it, I would surely gladly pass.
I remember some Christmases back home, when getting to the day, and fighting to have that moment of peace and joy with loved ones, become so stressful, it became a whirlwind of vague memories that left you nothing but relief by the time it was over – and I don’t know about you but I just hate that. The hype gets you so wrapped-up and dizzy that you completely miss the whole point of it all.
Sometimes stepping back or in the case of people like me who live away, especially in a country like Oman who does not celebrate Christmas, gives us a better perspective and gives us a clearer vision of what such occasions is all about. Call it appreciating what you can’t get, but still being away gives you time to contemplate and yes, appreciate what you used to take for granted.
The other day, I went into a KFC and this Filipino with all smiles, happily greeted me a Merry Christmas. I cannot help but feel misty-eyed by how warm and genuine his wishing me happy holidays emanated from him. And in all my twenty-four Christmases spent in Manila, I don’t think I have ever been greeted that way before by a complete stranger, even after being surrounded with all the decorations and the noise the Christmas season brought there. And yet here in a Muslim country, this guy who probably lives thousands of miles away from his family, and will probably be spending his Christmas behind the same counter has touched my heart this way. As I was about to leave he stopped me and said he wanted to give me something, and handed me free tumblers that they were giving away. It wasn’t much, the plastic kind, with a famous football player on it, (and as much as I love the presents I received from JG and friends here in Muscat) that for me was the best gift I got this year.
My first Christmas abroad in Libya, was one filled with Christmas blues, and adjusting to spending it away from family. And even then I said something about not being a yuletide person, and now it has taken me four years to elaborate why.
I still feel sad that JG and I are away from loved ones, but to be quite honest, how we spend Christmas away is something we really like. A day to celebrate with his colleagues at the Embassy and a quiet December 25, cuddling in front of the TV eating party left-overs and take-out, watching Christmas movies like Die Hard and Love Actually.
JG even went to a work thing today, attending a small diplomatic reception, which was to us was an interesting way to spend our Christmas evening.
Another Christmas movie we saw today is the Muppet Christmas Carol and one of the songs there is really what I would like to point out this year, that bit I will leave with this post, it basically says that doesn’t matter if your Scrooge, wherever you are – Whenever you find love, it feels like Christmas.