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Merry Christmas!



by Nelia Dingcong Bernabe
December 25, 2010
Where I grew up, Christmas comes in a rather simplified fashion.

There’s all the visual and auditory fuss and excitement but the simplicity comes from a more ethereal place. When the holiday season arrives, usually at the onset of the “ber” month, September, the entire landscape changes dramatically, transcending any religious, political or personal bias.

In September, Christmas decorations go up and Christmas carols fill the airwaves. People start fiddling with the calendar as soon as the last day of August comes but truth be told that when August 31 comes and goes, the sprouting of Christmas decorations and the invasion of Christmas music are a testament to what the multitudes have been itching to do as soon as September arrives.

Beyond the westernized trappings set in the tropics – Santa and his reindeers, fake snow, gingerbread houses – the reference to simplicity comes from the traditional way of expending the holiday greeting, Merry Christmas! It’s not an afterthought nor is it meant to hurt anybody’s feelings. It’s second nature; it’s instinctive, and it’s the only way that the spirit of the very meaningful season is perfectly captured in the hearts and minds of Filipinos.

Merry Christmas – two simple words that proclaim a belief anchored in one’s faith with nary a thought of minimizing another person’s conviction. Its simplicity does not warrant raised or furrowed brows, heated discussions or impassioned debates. It is not wished upon another person after a non-believer, a Christian, a person of different religion, a cult member, a pagan, an atheist or an agnostic gives his approval to go ahead and set the greeting free.

To the Chinese Filipinos, Muslim Filipinos, Spanish Filipinos, and the rest of the population, the simple phrase serves as a gesture of brotherhood and an ardent reminder of something more profound than a person’s religious ties – the birth of Christ. Regardless of their inherent differences, Filipinos seem to embrace the greeting from the context of what Christmas means to them.

The story of course is quite different here. In America, everyone has rights. For those who decry the exclusivity of the simple phrase – Merry Christmas – and take it a bit further by denouncing its use, the compromise that’s freely toss around serves the ultimate purpose.

Happy Holidays, everybody!

It’s nonrestrictive; it’s encompassing and it’s all-inclusive. Although it sounds a tad bit lackluster compared to Merry Christmas, I don’t have a problem with it. Happy Holidays! One thing it does do, however, is it makes me think. In the land where people’s rights rule and take priority over most things, how difficult is it, say if I were a non-believer, to wish my Christian friends Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays? The greeting would’ve meant more to me than anything else especially because it came from a non-believer friend. Reality paints a different picture though. Why does it seem like the compromise must always come from those welcoming the birth of Christ? Why do believers always have to make the adjustment? I know why but I just want to put it out there.

Let’s push this issue a little bit more. Being the non-believer, what should I do when a Christian friend wishes me Merry Christmas? Should I get offended? Or do I acknowledge the greeting, thank the person graciously, and then do the same – wish him/her Merry Christmas? Is that too much to ask? After all, what’s in our hearts should have more bearing than a politically charged phrase. Maybe I am just naïve but I’d take a well-meaning greeting anytime regardless of the person’s religious ties.

I respect those who strive to be politically correct all the time. There’s a lot to be said about their impassioned souls. To do the right thing most of the time to achieve political correctness is an admirable trait and I get it. I understand why they feel the need to go out of their way to make sure that they do not antagonize anybody. C’est la vie, I say! But truthfully that takes extra work and that’s just me. I am not casting any dark clouds on these people’s desire to be fair, upright, and neutral but by the same token, what happens to spontaneity and unabashed honesty?

I feel that when a person conveys genuineness, warmth, and sincerity, Merry Christmas will stand a chance. I say it takes extra work to strive to be politically correct most of the time, with all due respect, only from the perspective of having to stop by the door before going anywhere, in this case – opening your mouth – and undergoing a self-induced pat-down, examination or cross-examination.

I do wish for simpler times when what respectfully comes out of our mouths are not misconstrued or misinterpreted as this, that or otherwise. I wish for simpler times when more people will realize that the true essence of the season is not in the amount of money we spend on gifts but in pouring our energy appreciating the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Wish, being the operative word, fuels my utmost desire to make the most out of my two worlds, one that I’ve left behind but has instilled lifelong traditions in me and the other one – my present and my future – I’ve called home for over two decades that’s challenging some of these traditions but is allowing me to embrace a perspective that’s both enriching and stimulating.

Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Whatever your heart desires, the beautiful part about this time of the year is most people are in a forgiving spirit. People are more understanding and patient, and people are definitely more cheerful. Regardless of the strides I’ve made in my life for having lived here for so many years, the old school way of greeting people during this meaningful season is a habit that’s hard to subdue. So what do you say, just this one time, can I wish you a very, very Merry Christmas? Or would you rather I say: Merry Holidays? Happy Christmas? Nah…I’ll stick to Merry Christmas, everybody! Blessings to you all!



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