The day (and night) before Christmas

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PROF. EMERITUS LEONOR MAGTOLIS BRIONES

PROF. EMERITUS LEONOR MAGTOLIS BRIONES

IS the day before Christmas and preparations in the Philippines have reached fever pitch.  Since the start of the “-ber” months in September, Filipinos have been preparing for Christmas.  For four months, Christmas music has dominated the airwaves, glittery décor have been hauled out of storage boxes, Christmas trees put up and shopping lists prepared.  Shopping malls compete with each other in luring customers and selling gift items. Traffic jams become daily events, especially in areas where huge shopping malls and entertainment centers are located.

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When my children were growing up, the Christmas season was an exhausting, stressful but satisfying time. I had to schedule trips to the grocery, the market and the shopping malls. My preparations would begin well before December.

Since Christmas is generally for children, activities were planned especially for them and gifts carefully chosen. Their cousins and friends would be invited to come on Christmas eve and stay overnight.  Family reunions for both sides of the family had to be arranged, as well as get-togethers and reunions for various sets of friends. By the time December 25 finally arrived, I would be suffering from total Christmas fatigue!

I am sure many families go through this exhausting experience  every year.  With  anticipation  and excitement  building up  for four months, frenzied preparations for the “longest Christmas season in the world” and the total state of exhaustion when  Christmas finally comes,  many people forget what Christmas is all about.

What is Christmas all about?
All Christians are taught that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ who came down to earth to save us from our sins. Thus the different denominations of Christian churches have evolved various ways of preparing for  Christ’s coming.  The Catholics have their nine days of dawn masses, retreats and special events.  Protestants start the first Sunday of the month as Advent Sunday, followed by graduated activities leading to Christmas day.

The weeks before Christmas are traditionally spent in spiritual preparations through reflection and special programs like Christmas pageants and musical events.

The essence of Christmas is giving. One of the best-loved verses in the Bible explains, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Begotten Son, that whoever believeth in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”  Giving is the expression of love, as exemplified by our Father God who loved us so much he gave us His only Son.

We celebrate Christmas by giving.  Most of the time, we give Christmas gifts to people whom we do not necessarily love but those from whom we expect something in return, e.g. bosses and superiors, customers and clients, politicians, businessmen, powerful personalities, and yes, even religious leaders. Yes, we give gifts to the poor but make sure they know it comes from us.  Like the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized, we photograph, video and document our gift-giving to display our Christian acts of charity.

For me, the better gifts are those which are not announced and publicized. The best gifts are those which are given anonymously.

Christmas as a glorious musical
I have always associated God with music.  I believe it is the most beautiful language  through which God speaks to us, and we with Him.

I belong to a Christian church where music is an essential part of worship and celebration.  Thus, the story of the prophesies about Christ’s coming and his birth is told  in music. The best example of this is Handel’s oratorio, “The Messiah”. Months before Christmas, many church choirs  present this fantastic musical experience either in part or in whole.

My Christmases are associated with music. A great part of the repertoire of Manila Concert Choir  (of which I am the president) is Christmas music. This year, MCC caroled
friends with a repertoire of Filipino Christmas carols and songs. We sang classic songs by Felipe Padilla de Leon, Lucio San Pedro and Ramon Tapales. Nonetheless we ended with the Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus. Another MCC Christmas favorite is John Rutter’s “Gloria” which enraptured listeners say transports them to the very doors of heaven.

Yes, the story of Christmas and Christ’s birth is like a glorious musical.  Imagine the heavens opening with choirs of angels all singing, “Glory to God! Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace on earth, goodwill towards all men (and women!)”

‘Tis the day (and night) before Christmas
As our preparations for Christmas reach their peak today, let your hearts be filled with love and music. Let us prepare to give not only material gifts.  Let us give of our talents, our capacities, and our commitment to those whom Christ loved most—the poor.

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