Christmas in Manila

I often lament the commercialization of Christmas. Well, all holidays, in fact, but I find the consumerism perpetrated against Christmas to be the most offensive. I balk at the red-and-green aisles of supermarkets that begin to proliferate just days after (in some cases, side by side with) the orange and black of Halloween costumes, fake blood and baby Jesuses piled together in sale bins.

For me, the Christmas season can only really begin the day after Thanksgiving, and even then it should be a slow progression into December – a little garland here, some eggnog there… I like the idea of a Christmas that doesn’t begin on the 24th and end on the 26th, but I still remember being aghast last year when I turned on a popular Chicago radio station to find that they had changed their “play Christmas music nonstop from Thanksgiving onwards” program to begin November 1st instead! Starting that early, you’ll be sick of silver bells and sleigh rides by the time the leaves finish changing color!

So you can imagine my horror when I learned that Filipinos -joyously, enthusiastically, and unabashedly- like to begin celebrating Christmas NOW. In September. Really, it’s been going on for a couple of weeks already, but it was discreetly hidden in jazzy instrumental carols played at low volume in shopping malls, and advertisements for gift fairs and markets coming up in the next few months.

But today, as I rounded the corner of a shopping mall on my way to my favorite breakfast place, my mouth gaped open to see huge silver snowflakes (snowflakes! In Manila!) and enormous red ornaments already hung throughout the entirety of the corridor.

It’s too early for Christmas!!! It’s only September!!! Halloween is still a month away (which they also celebrate, by the way), and there are days and days to count down before the Big Day, before the madness of pre-season sales and the frenzy of torn wrapping paper that follows. It’s too balmy, too humid, too tropical to be Christmas! There isn’t the telltale crisp chill in the air, no darkening days, no colorful autumn to ease the transition. Nobody’s Christmas cheer can last three months, and even the best intentions of goodwill towards men are abandoned in the wake of ninety days of traffic and crowded malls.

I was not prepared for this. I was just preparing for the end of Rahmadan and next week’s Rosh Hashanah, thinking of Eid celebrations and fresh-baked challah. If this is what Christmas is like, I can only imagine what will happen when the sentimental Filipinos gear up for Valentine’s Day (in November). Lord help us all…


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