Notes & Essays

It's Not Just You: Christmas Felt a Little Less Christmas-y This Year

Many of us wrote at least one less letter or wrapped two less gifts.
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Filipinos supposedly celebrate the longest and happiest Christmas in the world. But something felt different this year. Celebrations, including Christmas, seemed to have toned down. This was to be expected, especially since it’s the second holiday season in this pandemic. God willing, it’ll be the last.

via GIPHY 

Don’t get us wrong: we know most of us tried this year as hard as we always do. We didn’t miss any Noche Buena favorites; our families’ secret recipes were spot on. Mariah Carey and Jose Mari Chan were right on time to usher us into the season.

But there were inevitable and unfortunate challenges. One too many. 

If you spent too much of your long-awaited day-off on Instagram, maybe you wouldn’t have noticed. You know how it goes on the fantasy platform: everything is behind a filter and everyone is shiny and bright.

But if you looked closely, took your time to reflect or maybe reached out to your friends and family to talk about their Christmas, you would have felt the difference. It may have been faint and subtle, but it’s impossible to ignore. This season either magnified your joy or, more likely, highlighted the exact opposite. 

Here’s a wild guess: it’s not just because of the gifts we didn’t receive or the love letters we didn’t write. Okay, maybe those had something to do with it. But there’s also more.

We should talk about all the unexpected losses this year that somehow felt greater and more immediate than any other in recent years: lives, livelihoods, properties, opportunities. To some, these are just numbers. To many, these are friends and families.

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And did you notice how some Christmas greetings on your social media timelines showed a shot of an urn or a gravestone? Or smiling faces gathered in a hospital? You’ve also probably seen as many as black profile pictures on your timeline. 

One way to quantify that is by looking at the COVID-19 casualties this year. From 9,000-plus recorded COVID-related deaths from the start of the year, the number has increased more than fivefold. At what point did we become desensitized? 

While many of us have gotten used to the daily statistics, we remain vulnerable to the crises we continue to face, regardless of and related to COVID alike. Restricted celebrations and social gatherings are a given at this point, but just when we were starting to feel hopeful and happy-ish again, more blows kept coming our way. Case in point: Omicron and Odette, both of which topped the list of buzzkills in a matter of weeks. 

Lest this turn into another resiliency or sob story, we have to point out that, despite all of this, Filipinos still love Christmas. And to show that love, we all did what we had to do: we got our vaccines and wore our masks to parties (most of us anyway). We held our families’ hands in mass while holding an alcohol spray in the other.

For a moment, we felt hope. It’s Christmas and we held our smiles in the face of heartbreak. We indulged in our celebrations while extending a helping hand to those who experienced loss.

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At this point, every year just feels like a marathon with no finish line in sight, and with no option to back out. Yet every year, we try twice as hard to say Merry Christmas out loud, and we exert twice as much effort to regain the spirit of Christmas, on the off chance that Christmas would feel Christmas-y again.

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Roland Jelo Arevalo
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