To put credit where it is due, I owe the Aquino administration one significant change in my family life this Christmas. By blindly inflicting the nightmarish traffic gridlock in our national capital, the government has killed the uncontrollable consumerism that used to possess my family whenever Christmas was at hand. Our brood of four absolutely do not want to venture out of the house to do any shopping these days, in order to avoid the traffic. We bear no responsibility for enabling the commercialization of this great feast of Christendom.
Thanks to the ingenuity and enterprise of mall developers like SM, Robinsons, Ayala and Gaisano, there’s one subject now that I’m afraid to research on for fear of what I might discover. This is the question whether there are now more big malls than hospitals and universities in this country.
Family before Santa Claus
I dare not say this aloud because of the little ones, but during this time of year the lyric “I’ll be home for Christmas” means more these days than that bouncy lyric “Santa Claus is coming to town.”
One of the saddest lines I’ve ever read – ironically from a wise columnist (Ellen Goodman) – is this: “This is what we have learned about our country – that in America, food is plentiful, but family is scarce.”
I rejoice at the thought that here in our country, despite our forced separations (there are over ten million of our people living and working abroad today) and despite the scarcities that we must live with, family is always plenty. Food brings us together at the table on Christmas eve, but it’s the family that really sustains us.
In the rundown through the 12 days of Christmas, I’ve seen firsthand how this works, as I have attended a wedding, several birthdays and parties that brought families and friends together.
I saw one niece get married at the Manila Cathedral, and marveled at how a Filipino Catholic wedding and reception still remains for us the most transcendent ritual of faith and family.
I saw a cousin come all the way home from San Francisco to be surprised by a secret birthday party thrown in his behalf, and by the instant reunion with family and friends he has not seen for years. All the years gone by have not washed away the thrill and pleasure of meeting people once again. Whether celebrant or guest, we are renewed by the experience.
Perpetual fear of scarcity
Perhaps because we cherish it so much, Christmas highlights the perennial tension between scarcity and abundance in our lives.
Out in the country, where I grew up and where close kin will celebrate this Christmas as in times past, the rhythms of nature , with its endless cycle of birthing, dying, and rebirth, are an essential part of the Christmas spirit.
The gift of life, which during a typhoon appears to be taken away, is given back prodigally. After a storm, I usually saw all banana trees in our backyard laid waste, our vegetable garden swept clean, and the fruit buds of trees blown away, but after a few weeks you start to see things growing back and blossoming again.
In a wonderful essay, “There is a season”, the Quaker writer and educator Parker Palmer compares nature’s seasons to those of our personal and political lives.
He writes: “Nature normally takes us through a reliable cycle of scarcity and abundance in which times of deprivation foreshadow an eventual return to the abundant fields.
“This fact of life is in sharp contrast to a human nature that seems to regard perpetual scarcity as the law of life.….
“The irony, often tragic, is that we create scarcity by fearfully accepting it as law, and by competing with others for resources as if we were stranded on the Sahara at the last oasis.”
Abundance is a communal act
From this he rises to a great insight on the importance of community.
“In the human world, abundance does not happen automatically. It is created when we have the sense to choose community, to come together to celebrate and share our common store. Whether the scarce resource is money or love or power or words, the true law of life is that we generate more of whatever seems scarce by trusting its supply and passing it around. Authentic abundance does not lie in secured stockpiles of food or cash or influence or affection, but in belonging to a community where we can give those goods to others who need them – and receive them when we are in need.”
Paradoxes of life and happiness
All this leads us to the enduring paradox, known in all the wisdom traditions and exemplified at Christmas: “If we receive a gift, we keep it alive not by clinging to it but by passing it along or sharing it.”
One great religious teacher explains this in terms of what he calls the three paradoxes of life and happiness.
The first paradox is: If we seek happiness, it will elude us. We find it only when we are not looking for it.
The Second paradox is: you cannot get happiness unless you give it. If we would achieve happiness, our lives must spill into other lives. We must concentrate not on getting but on giving, not on hoarding but on sharing.
The third paradox of happiness flows directly from the second. If it is true that we cannot get happiness unless we give it, it is also true that we cannot give it without getting it.
As we give happiness or share our blessings, they will come back to bless us.
Christmas does not give us detailed answers for our many problems, but it does give us confidence in the power for good in the world.
This is why many approach Christmas in an attitude of gratitude toward God for the gift of life and his many blessings.