1. November has started and before we knew it, it is Christmas already. Christmas, in a Christian and capitalist society like the Philippines, is one of the most anticipated holidays – if not the most anticipated – of the year. So TV newscasts, for the whole year the monger of stories about politicians bickering over issues of National Interest and the networks’ contract stars falling in and out of Love, have also appointed themselves as purveyor of Christmas gift ideas, providing Really Useful Information on where to buy the cheapest China-made toys to give our children – Christmas, after all, is for children, right? – and trinkets to decorate our homes with.
2. Many people in my Facebook network – also known as “friends” – have also started doing some purveying of gift ideas themselves in the form of Christmas wish lists. These so-called wishlists are lists of items which the list writer would really love to receive on Christmas. Each item often comes with a picture and a concise definition similar to those in an Avon catalog, the items ranging from a Maybelline lipstick to a Nikon digital camera. So if someone is thinking of giving you a gift this Christmas, he or she need not go to so much trouble asking your friends for information in secret. He or she only has to see that list on your Facebook account. Come to think of it, a wishlist saves peoples’ time, so you are even doing your possible gift-givers a favor.
3. Moreover, it saves you, the list writer and eventual gift-receiver, the disappointment of unwrapping yet another Good Morning face towel, the 127th since the office Christmas party.
4. There is something unsettling with this. I find wish lists a little too functional. It strips the practice of gift-giving of its emotional context, reducing it into nothing more than an act of exchange of objects among people. And much of what we do gains value because of the emotional context within which this act is carried out.
5. I have always believed that the charm of a gift lies on the knowledge that it was given to you despite you not asking for it. If you ask for it or pester people for it, it becomes something else. Perhaps a reward, a payment, or a bribe. But not a gift.
6. When I was younger, on school Christmas parties, our teachers would require everyone in the class to bring in gifts, to be raffled off later. Not a few children went home disheartened, having received a Good Morning face towel, a comb, a water bottle, or anything as functional and that is not a toy. Even then, I would stress myself out lamenting silently the forcedness and fakeness of this classroom gift exchange.
7. This, along with telling children to put on their best selves the whole year so they could expect a gift from Santa Claus on Christmas, though well-meaning, has unintended ethically unsavory effects. It reinforces the materialistic value system of a hyper-consumerist society. It means that you become happy by possessing things, rather than nurturing relationships.
8. Because Christmas is originally a Christian ritual, let me get an example from Christian mythology. Christians believe that before Jesus, humanity was so fucked up that they are better off as kindling for the fires of hell, whatever that is. Yet God, taking a cue from Willie Revillame, was so generous that he gave them a savior still – who was no less than his son, his only begotten son at that. And that act of godly generosity is what is supposedly celebrated when people give gifts at Christmas.
9. Perhaps gift-giving is simply that, an exchange of objects among people, nothing more. You give gifts to your parents, the people who fed and clothed you, the first people to tell the lie about you being handsome and talented. You give gifts to your lover for the sex and the respite from the butt-of-jokes status of being single. But let’s pretend. Let’s pretend we don’t have an inkling on what the persons we sit next to or sleep beside with want this Christmas, but we don’t ask them upfront, so we instead turn to their other friends for that precious information, cautioning them all the while not to tell anything about it to our beloved. Let’s pretend that we, as the beloved now, never got wind of our lover’s info-fishing expedition, and at Christmas, when they finally hand us the Gift, we remove the pretty glossy paper with poinsettia prints ever so slowly, savoring each delicious second of anticipation. Let’s pretend that we give and receive gifts out of that beautiful feeling that wells from some mysterious place within us, otherwise called love.
10. Having said all these, I am now bracing myself for the sight of an empty stocking on Christmas morning.