24 December 2008

A Christmas Reflection: Posh Parties Don't Make the Season Happier

When the annual company Christmas party was announced in November, we were told that it would be held at the Bahay ng Alumni over at the UP-Diliman campus. That said, you could just imagine the shock that came over everyone when we were told that the party was to be held at the posh Dusit Thani Hotel (formerly known as the Dusit Hotel Nikko) over in Makati.

Sounds good, ne? Posh digs + better food + everyone in the office = a rollicking good time, right? That's what we all thought at first. Then, on the day itself, the party proved to be a crashing bore.

For starters, people weren't allowed into the venue until one of the bigwigs gave an unseen go-signal. Second, while the food was excellent, most of those in attendance couldn't appreciate it. I mean, roast beef - prime rib, to be exact - and mashed potatoes are one thing, but terrine de canard and a platter of seafood rilettes (a circular loaf of pureed monkfish studded with prawns and topped with sturgeon and salmon caviar) most people mistook for a sweet cake are a completely different story all together. And, to make matters worse, the entertainment for the evening was completely lost on people who would have enjoyed a live band and dancing - I mean, Raymond Lauchengco of all people! Belting out the best of Broadway, for crying out loud! As elegant as the party was, everyone agreed that it was not the best one yet.

The world is currently in the throes of economic recession and social turmoil. These were what I was thinking of this morning as children came banging on our gates and clamoring for Holiday hand-outs. To see children in a community where most of the kids have already grown up, left school, and started families of their own is surprising enough. However, it becomes more thought-provoking when you realize that these aren't local kids but children from nearby squatter communities.

was the first emotion that struck me: where were these kids' parents? Why in blazes were they letting their children worry about where their next meal would come from? Where the hell were these layabouts who gambled and drank themselves into insensibility while their children fretted?! Pity was the next thing to kick in: these children should be having fun and looking forward to Christmas rather than going door to door in search of a little food or money to help alleviate their families' misery. You could say that there are charitable institutions who could help them, that local churches and community groups hold soup kitchens and feeding programs, that we must shun mendicancy because most beggars are working for this mob or another - but none of that will take away the pathos of seeing kids begging in the streets.

Just this Saturday, I attended another Christmas party - the one held annually by my mother and her friends from high school. It had a completely different vibe from the company party: it was filled with warmth, laughter, and people talked to each other with ease. Sure the food didn't involve smoked salmon or pureed monkfish, but who were we to say no to all the goodies set before us? The entertainment was simple, too: the little ones performed songs and dances and Tita Girlie did the hula version of The Prayer that was such a hit at her last Soroptimists' meeting. People actually enjoyed themselves despite the simpler fare and the kids' antics. Hugs were bestowed by one and all, the laughter more honest and heartfelt. The only cloud on this party's horizon was that Ninang Ruth, our hostess-with-the-mostest for over twenty years was in the United States, undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. A short but fervent prayer thanking the Lord for over two decades' worth of celebrations was uttered before dinner - something that wasn't done at the company party.

People who have known me for a long time know that I'm not a very religious person by nature, but I personally believe that Christmas is about family and community.

It is a celebration of sharing the best of what we have with those we love and those around us regardless of race, social standing, or creed. It is a season of gratefulness, for thanking God for all the blessings we have received this past year.

It is not - and was never - about the gifts or the parties or the decorations and things. Santa Claus and all the other secular fripperies weren't there when it all began. It is a time for remembrance: a time to recall that our Savior was born over two thousand years ago - not in some hospital, not in some palace, but in a cold and dark manger in Bethlehem.

Item 525 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states: Jesus was born in a humble state into a poor family. Simple shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. In this poverty, heaven's glory was made manifest. See? No crib but a heap of straw in a stone trough, no cooing admirers save for His parents and the shepherds from nearby fields, no fanfare - but the triumphant chorus of all God's angels marked the birth of the One destined to save us from sin and lead us to everlasting life. Keep that in mind and you will have a more meaningful season.

Have a very merry, meaningful, and peaceful Christmas.

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