An abbreviated Christ

I agree with Father Ben Sim’s (Angkong Ben to many of his constituents) lament: Why is the Christ in Christmas being forgotten in the frenzy of cards, gifts, carols and the like? Instead of the traditional songs like “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” “O Holy Night,” “Adeste Fideles,” children today are more familiar with “Frosty the Snowman,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “All I Want for Christmas.”
The message of rejoicing over Christ’s humble birth is all but forgotten. Christ should be the center of holiday observances. Personally, I prefer the full spelling of “Christmas” to the abbreviated “Xmas.” Amid the hustle and bustle of the season, it seems even Christ is being abbreviated or crossed out.
Some will argue this is not so. Indeed, the “X” is from the Greek letter “Chi,” the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός for “Christ.” The “mas” in Christmas is from the Old English word for mass. How many people know this? “X” in popular culture refers to the unknown. Evangelists like Franklin Graham say “Xmas” is symbolic of a more serious problem with our culture: Crossing out the name of Jesus Christ points to society becoming increasingly secular.
Then there are lavish Christmas parties, which really rub me the wrong way. Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, for the past 30 years, always asks members to bring food for sharing, potluck style, when there is a get-together. Christ was born and raised under humble circumstances. He never accumulated wealth. He was always with the poor, the needy and the sick.
They are still with us. There are even more of them after every bloody conflict between the military and rebels, after every natural disaster that hits this country. After the five-month Marawi siege, Typhoon Urduja that slammed the Visayas and Palawan, and Typhoon Vinta that struck Mindanao and again Palawan, we have people who need succor.
The height of insensitivity was displayed by Malacañang itself in the infamous pre-debut photo shoot of presidential granddaughter Isabelle Duterte on Dec. 14. Photographs of her in lavish gowns adorned with Swarovski crystals went viral. New York Times opinion writer Miguel Syjuco estimates the cost of just Isabelle’s dresses, photography and styling at from P800,000 to more than P1 million.
I felt terrible wondering how many people this kind of money could have fed and clothed.
Isabelle’s grandfather, the president, regularly professes he lives a simple life. Yet he found nothing wrong with the actuations of his granddaughter, inside the sacrosanct Malacañang, the seat of the national government.
In contrast with his expressed preference for simplicity, his granddaughter poses on social media wearing designer fashion. In December, Isabelle stated on Instagram that she was touring Australia with family and wearing pants by Balenciaga. In September 2017, Rappler dubbed Isabelle as the newest fashionista on social media, reposting seven of her Instragram photos with a price listing of only four items in the photos amounting to a whopping $9170.
The Malacañang photo shoot triggered the public squabble between Isabelle and her father Paolo Duterte, the vice mayor of Davao, on social media. Apparently, Isabelle’s mother – the vice mayor’s ex-wife – and stepfather were behind the tasteless extravaganza. At any rate, good for Paolo for letting the public know he had no knowledge of his daughter’s actuations. It is better than the grandfather who found nothing wrong with what she did. Paolo has since resigned from his post as vice mayor of Davao City.
Then I saw the news about the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office supposedly spending P10 million on its Christmas party at EDSA Shangri-La Hotel’s Isla Ballroom on Dec. 19. Of course, general manager Alexander Balutan protested, insisting that only P6 million was spent. Goodness! In my books, P6 million is never “only.”
The PCSO heads defended the expense saying there were 1,580 employees. That means P3,797.00 was spent per employee. Unless they all had Wagyu Beef on the menu, I am surmising that the bulk of that expense paid for the venue, and most probably, giveaways.
Is the PCSO office not big enough to hold its party? Hasn’t the PCSO heard of the victims of the Marawi conflict and of typhoons Urduja and Vinta? Or of the more than 100 lumads camped out at the grounds of the University of the Philippines, hoping to get back home to conflict-ridden Mindanao but couldn’t raise money for their fare?
No matter how Balutan tries to justify the cost of the bash, his and his office’s insensitivity to the plight of the poor, coming from a charity organization, is deplorable.
I don’t want to begrudge anyone of celebrating Christmas or their life’s milestones. But in our country beset with disasters, calamities and overwhelming poverty, do these celebrations have to break the bank?

Discomforting thoughts
Just before Christmas break, friends called my attention to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ query regarding the statue for comfort women put up at Roxas Boulevard and Quirino Avenue in Manila.
I hope the query does not mean disapproval of the statue. The Japanese Embassy has no choice but to make a pro-forma objection. That is its job. It is, however, our government’s job to defend our position. I am sure Japan will think the better of our country for standing its ground. Germany apologized for the millions of Jews massacred by the Nazis. The Germans spent for building the Holocaust Memorial to teach their people a lesson – that never again should they visit such atrocity on any human being.
I do understand that we have to deal with our friends and neighbors cordially and diplomatically. But this does not mean we have to be subservient to unreasonable demands. The Japanese occupation is a fact. The atrocities, persecutions, massacres, rape and other war crimes are facts. These we cannot and should not deny. We have long forgiven Japan for the tragedy, but it does not mean we should just forget.
There is a shrine at Anda and Gen. Luna Streets in Intramuros, Manila – Memorare Manila – for the 100,000 civilians killed during the Battle of Manila in 1945.
The comfort women statue, just like the Intramuros shrine, is not intended to insult the Japanese people. It serves to remind humanity that violence against women is unacceptable any time and under any circumstances. It serves to remember the women who suffered and to pay tribute to their courage and resilience.
Peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is understanding and forgiveness. Peace is a lesson that must be taught to present and future generations – that war is never an answer to any conflict, and never again should we visit the war of our fathers on our future generations.
We sincerely hope that both the DFA and the City of Manila will decide wisely and prudently: To leave the statue alone.

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