Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most stressful. As early as September, Yuletide carols start playing in the malls, egging its patrons to “spend now while ye may.”
Many families likewise put up their Christmas trees and wrap gifts within the same month. Some even hire department store staff to spruce up their homes!
Since starting our own family some years back, my husband and I opted to scale back and held off on having a tree indoors. We hung a big parol outside, bought a few Christmas balls, and with my son, baked and painted salt dough ornaments and hung them on our tree outside.
Soon the elements faded our store-bought décor, and our DIY ones didn’t last until the next year.
So we caved and got a fake plastic tree, which annually we decorate while listening to Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby,” among other Yuletide classics.
Through the years, we’ve added greeting cards, crafts made by my son in school, ornaments given (along with the old, faded ones), and stuffed toys.
A Polar Express train that Santa Claus gave my son when he was 3 years old chugs around it. It’s not an elegant, department store-level tree, but I like that it’s uniquely ours.
This year, my 6-year-old Jack asked, “Why do we need a tree?” It caught me off-guard. “Of course, we don’t need a tree, but we put it up during Christmastime to remind us to be more kind and giving, compassionate and generous—like Jesus.”
His question continues to preoccupy me to this day. And I realized we didn’t even have a belen (nativity scene). Isn’t that a better reminder of Jesus as “the reason for the season”?
With everything that comes from having two small kids, stuff continues to pile on at an alarming rate and it stresses me out, knowing how much more they’ll accumulate post-Christmas (and post-birthday, as Jack’s birthday is in December, too).
We gratefully receive hand-me-downs from relatives and we pass on our own outgrown clothes and toys, but setting aside the time to purge can be overwhelming.
Add to that the flurry of must-attend functions and presents to purchase and send out on time. All these take away the point of the holidays, which is to pause and reflect on the birth of the Savior.
“No matter what age, each person has a favorite thing about Christmas—it may be the presents, the food or the gatherings. But as long it gives you an opportunity to step back, appreciate, and truly reflect on Jesus’ birth and God’s blessings of family and friends, then it’s always a meaningful one,” Marc Reyes said.
“One of my earliest childhood memories was that of my dad (Angelo Reyes) bringing us to watch the annual animated Christmas display at COD in Cubao. We would then have our traditional after-show dinner at Shakey’s in Ali Mall, then cap the night with dessert at the Magnolia Ice Cream House on Aurora Boulevard. This simple tradition gave me priceless memories and made me realize, at a very young age, that Christmas is truly something special for me and my entire family.”
Marc and his wife Divine choose to make Christmas meaningful every year by giving back.
“Ever since our daughter Rafi underwent emergency brain surgery to remove a tumor, we’ve been wanting to help other families in similar situations. For the past five Christmases we have been actively helping the Philippine General Hospital’s Pediatric Neurosurgical Craniofacial Operating Unit (PGH-PNCOU) through a fundraising project we set up called ‘Two
More Kids’ (facebook.com/ twomorekids/).”
The unit provides free surgery to underprivileged children with brain tumors and malformations of the brain, spinal cord and face.
For Nix Albano, 35, a meaningful Christmas is one shared and celebrated with the entire family.
“I love having nonstop chats while sipping hot cocoa, seeing smiles everywhere you look, hearing continuous laughter, singing Christmas carols with wrong lyrics, playing silly games, staring at all the food on the table thinking which one to eat first, and just being thankful for having these wonderful people with me,” he said.
His best Christmas memory as a child was when he, his siblings and cousins would help prepare the belen at their grandparents’ house and plan Christmas programs.
“And, of course,” Nix added, “giving them that little something they’ve been wanting all year but making sure they know that these gifts are just a bonus.”
When Rachel Barrios, 34, was a little girl, Christmas for her was all about the tree, presents and Santa Claus.
“Now that I have a family of my own, the true meaning of Christmas is about spending time, celebrating and embracing every minute of this magical time of the year with family and loved ones,” she said.
“As a child, I remember decorating our home a month before Christmas, setting up the tree and putting family presents under it while listening to old Christmas carols. But my favorite was Christmas Eve, when our big family gathered for the Noche Buena, and ate meals cooked by my Lola Adela.”
Rachel plans to spend quality time this Christmas with her family: “I want to make this holiday special and meaningful by spending not so much on material presents but by creating happy memories and fun traditions that my son would love and continue with his own family someday.”
“A meaningful Christmas is a Christ-filled Christmas,” said Stef Valdez, 40. “From Dec. 1 to 25, our family does one good deed a day, pray with and share Jesus to a friend, take out our helpers or do the chores for them. We also save up to help an orphanage.
“We put up the Christmas tree and play worship songs. We discuss the meaning behind the tree and make our own advent candles or wreath.”
Her best memories as a child? “One of the best things we do is watch the sunrise and worship the Lord,” she said.
The Valdezes also observe an Advent calendar tradition. From Dec. 1 to 25, Stef builds up events with Bible verses to teach her girls Ola, 9 and Soleil, 6, what she wants them to pass on to their own children.
“For example, Joseph accepting Mary when he knew she was pregnant is a character of complete submission to the will of the Father,” Stef said.
She shared some ideas to make Christmas more meaningful:
“Host a gathering, and have guests and or family members bring their own Christmas ornament that symbolizes who Jesus was to them this year: “For instance, a lantern if Jesus was your light, gave clear direction; a rock, if He made you strong through trials; a mirror, if you were blessed with clarity. These will be hung on the Christmas tree.
“At the end of the day, Christmas is all about Jesus. Beyond the lights, the Christmas songs, the noise, the food, Santa… Jesus is Christmas, He is the meaning.”–CONTRIBUTED