“Ma,” my daughter, Gia, said in a message over Viber on Christmas night, “I really didn’t feel Christmas this year.”
I stared at her message and felt sad, not just for her but for younger women like her. Indeed, many have had to adjust to drastic and quite possibly permanent changes, like the loss of livelihoods or worse. I think the hardest thing for Gia was the uncertainty of a future that she felt she had all worked out and had looked so promising.
Gia and her partner and friend, both of them educators, had to close their preschool. The reality hit them when they started returning reservation and tuition fees for school year 2020-2021. This pandemic has prevented her trusted helper and an occasional driver from coming back. As a result she had innumerable chores to do by herself, and not only home chores: She had gone into baking for substitute income for the season.
Between the baking and the self-driven trips for the ingredients and packaging materials, she had no time to put up the tree, or any kind of Christmas décor, for that matter, and to send gifts.
I could have told her, it if was any consolation, that very few people, if any, felt Christmas this year. But consolation was not what someone who, reacting positively, admirably, to a difficult situation could have been looking for—perhaps hope would have been better?
As for myself, I once again turned to Pope Francis for grace and inspiration, and he never disappoints: I found what I was looking for, and more, in his Christmas message. It waxed poetic, and it refreshingly altered my understanding of Christmas. Pope Francis has a way of transporting me into my inner self, from where deeper meanings are revealed. His message must have sounded even better in romantic Spanish or Italian, but its meaning is to me too clear and elegant, yet bold, for any of it to be missed.
He said everything we’ve associated with Christmas—the tree, the bells, the lights, the angels, the star, the wise men, the carols, the gifts, the cards, etc.—are but manifestations of our own inner state at one time or another. Christmas is us, because it is who we are, as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are Christmas, if we live our faith and bear witness to His birth and life by loving God actively through others.
In Francis’ eyes, I am Christmas, you are Christmas, we are all Christmas. In his words I recognized my own daughter’s Christmas-ness, in her being a good daughter, an understanding wife, a generous sister, a true friend and an excellent teacher, who loves her students as her own children.
Borrowing Francis’ analogy, I saw my own as well as everybody’s Christmas-ness. We don’t need anything else to feel Christmas this year, or any year, if we realize that not only is Christmas in our hearts, it is our intended nature or, to borrow from another source of guidance and inspiration in my daily life, Fr. Tito Caluag, our “mission.”
This pandemic has given us the opportunity to love and serve God by helping those who have less in life, those who have never had much to begin with, and whose struggle consists of hanging on to what is left of human dignity, like that old taxi driver whose pained visage I cannot erase from my mind. He wasn’t asking for money or food but being allowed to earn his living. I can still hear him, choking as he held back tears, as he moaned how hard it is to be poor: “Mahirap ‘pag mahirap.”
Others may have suffered less, but all of them constitute a test of human compassion, indeed mercy. Indeed, it is in the human heart that we are most Christlike. And I suggest we all look again at the pope’s message and find in it our own Christmas-ness before we begin a new year. We all have it, and we should continue building on it.
My own daughter didn’t realize, as neither did I for myself, that she was Christmas, whether or not she put up her tree and hung the decorations or sent gifts. She wouldn’t have felt let down if she only knew—by listening to Francis.
She was the Christmas tree, “when you resist vigorous winds and difficulties of life.” She was the decorations, “when your virtues are colors that adorn your life.” She was the wise men, “when you give the best you have to no matter who.” She was the Christmas music, “when you conquer the harmony within you.” She was the gift, “when you are truly a friend and brother/sister of every human being.” She was the bells, “when you call, gather and seek to unite.” She was the lights, “when you illuminate with your life the path of others with kindness, patience, joy and generosity.”