One of the most touching movies I’ve seen is about one Christmas Eve during World War II; it’s based on a true story. I don’t remember the title, but the story is hard to forget.
In a cabin deep in the woods in Germany, a woman and her young son await the return of her husband, the boy’s father. A gentle knock on their door catches her lowering her guard, and she opens it expectantly. There, in front of her, are three young American soldiers, one badly wounded.
She speaks no English, and they no German, yet her human heart cannot turn them away. But when, later on, four armed German soldiers appear, she feels alarmed. Still she lets them in, but warns them of the presence of the American soldiers. She asks them, as she has done the Americans, to leave their guns outside: “It is the holy night, and there will be no shooting here.”
Enemies thus share the warmth and shelter of the cabin; they even drink and sing carols together as she roasts the chicken she has been keeping for her husband’s return. One of the young German soldiers turns out to be a medic and tends to the wounded American. Friend or foe, they are human beings first, with hearts and minds filled with the spirit of the birth of the child who has come to redeem all mankind; and for one night there is peace in a snow-laden cabin in the middle of a war.
Magic of Christmas
But it has taken a brave woman—a wife and mother—to make it happen, as it can be made to happen anywhere under the most extreme conditions, by reason of a common humanity. That, for me, is the true magic of Christmas.
Something really happens to people at this time of year. No matter what the circumstances, even amid the horrors of war, the deepest sense of humanity shines through on no other occasion than Christmas. Indeed, God’s love is most palpable at Christmastime when we are somehow able to love one another like the brothers and the sisters in Christ that we are.
When someone speaks or acts in a quarrelsome or offensive way, they are told: “Paskong pasko naman!”
Christmas is about expressing love and gratitude to others—family and friends, employees and fellow workers, and children most especially. And then there is the noble love of the poor. It’s a good Filipino trait that corporations and organizations, apart from individuals, go out of their way to remember those who have less in life, to be generous and thoughtful toward them beyond any sense of obligation.
But, as happy as one is predisposed to be, it’s just as easy to feel saddest at Christmas. When families are apart, for instance, or when a loss is suffered. It does seem harder to take tragedy at Christmas than at any other time. Still, it would depend on the attitude one decides to take.
My son just left for the United States, most probably for good. And for the first time, he will not be with us at Christmas. I could let that ruin my joy, if I wanted to, but I prefer to think how happy he is to be with his wife and her daughter and their pets.
I won’t have my granddaughter Mona for Christmas or New Year, either. I could feel bad about that, too. But, again, it won’t be all that sad, knowing that for Christmas she’ll be with her maternal grandma, whom she loves and who loves her back, and for the New Year she’ll enjoy being with her dad in Baguio.
Of course, Vergel and I will miss her terribly, especially at the traditional Christmas Eve mass and dinner with my daughter and her family. We’ll miss her again on Christmas day with my cousin Ninit’s family. But we’ll surely have our own fun with great friends. And for New Year’s we’ve booked ourselves for a two-night promo stay at a hotel just across town. I’m sure no one will shed tears for me, and neither will I have tears for anyone.
At this age, I challenge anyone of my generation to tell me if they are not overwhelmed by so much given us. Whenever I think about it myself, I’m touched. If one has lived sensitively enough to my age, there’s no reason not to be content and satisfied, no reason to envy anyone or feel less blessed. Everything evens out in the end.
It’s so easy to smile nowadays, believing as I do that smiling is a spiritual practice, something inspired by God’s blessings. And there’s quite a lot of them, which surprises even me. I’m not talking material wealth, but good health, rock-solid friendships, old and new, children and grandchildren, family and extended family, and good loyal house help.
Of course, there are problems here and there, snags and delays in our own life schedules, but faith in a loving God, whose sense of timing is impeccable, helps me let go and not worry. It’s God’s will, so how bad can things be? It’s not always easy to guess what the divine plan is, but I seem to be getting better at guessing what it’s not.
It’s not the death penalty, it’s not the extra-judicial killings, the lies, the vicious attacks on one’s political enemies, and the foul language; nor is it people reacting rabidly to a dissenting opinion; these negative forces have the same destructive force of a natural calamity, which has to happen in order to restore the balance of nature.
Meanwhile, as we go through temporary hardships, we should remember that, at any time, we can set aside our differences and see beyond the anger, call a truce that will go beyond the season.