CHRISTMAS AND XMAS
On the north side of Manila there’s a shop called ‘Paskohan’, which means ‘the Christmas shop’. It has all the trappings: a resident Santa Claus, decorations, Christmas trees and carols; but it has them all the year round! The idea is that customers would be overtaken by the Christmas spirit the moment they stepped inside (even in the middle of July), and would reach for their wallets and begin to buy everything around them. However, the idea was not a great success; people are proving that they can be smitten by that particular spirit only at Christmas. There is a similar Christmas shop in Washington D.C, and its business too, I’m told, and is under par. There is hope for us still!
In hot countries Christmas is a very different experience from Christmas in the cold. Never any snow, no robins, no holly or plum pudding, no open fire, no cold and so no ex use for hot whiskeys…! How different life would be without seasons! Where people have only two, they want to hold onto them, I suppose, and so they steer clear of Paskohan. Many of the Christmas cards in hot countries are imported from Europe and America or they are modelled on that kind of card. They show incongruous snow and holly and robins! Perhaps the idea of Christmas atmosphere in those hot places is mostly just that: an idea. Or more likely, they form their own set of associations. That Christmas should still be seasonal, despite the power of commercial advertising, is a tribute to people’s sense of time and occasion.
It is customary to complain about the commercialism of Christmas. Very well, let’s complain: there is no shortage of people who want to cash in commercially on Christmas. But neither is there a lack of Scrooges who see the holy season only as a waste of money. But what are people buying, mostly, at Christmas? Gifts and gifts and gifts! I don’t see anything wrong with that! In fact a touch of it would do the world of good throughout the rest of the year. If that could be spread over all the seasons it would be a fine thing; but the fact that people cannot be conned into it (as proved by the unspectacular success of those ‘Christmas shops’) shows that they are still able to hold out against the wiles of commercialism.
But we can't let you go without some complaint. Xmas cards. These are not Christmas cards. Xmas cards have heartlessness written all over them, and minimalism: just half a dozen words and a signature, or sometimes just ‘From’ and a signature. They are roughly the postal equivalent of a water biscuit. But they are not yet the bottom of the bag. Right at the bottom you get the cards that are untouched by human hands. They are usually sent out by companies and groups, but also unbelievably by some religious communities. You just get a printed name. I transfer these directly to the waste paper basket. They convey the spirit of Scrooge with bitter accuracy.
Someone tells me that he can never take seriously Scrooge’s conversion to generosity in Dickens’s Christmas Carol. That, I tell him, is the very spirit of Scrooge speaking in him. The inability to believe well of people, or to hope even foolishly for them: that's the Scrooge spirit. And its polar opposite is gift-giving. To give a gift is to say: “We’re not in this world to make money out of one another. You in particular deserve to get something for nothing; you are more than you earn. In a word, I believe in you!
As for those wretched cards (I mean Xmas cards), what they say is: “I hardly believe in you at all; you’re just a name on my list. By sending you this minimalist card I’m discharging a faint obligation towards you; and if you don’t send one to me, all the better! I can then cross you off my annual list. That will save me about 30 pence or cents or whatever Scrooge’s currency is. (If I leave the envelope open, will it be only 28?) Happy Xmas!”
Never mind! Happy Christmas!