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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

entry arrow9:17 PM | Searching for Christmas

I have been desperately looking for Christmas.

I looked for it in a Christmas party, a sparsely attended affair held together by an unconvincing sense of obligation. The tree in the middle of the room, which was made of a variety of green strings tacked on one end to a spot in the ceiling, was sad and mournful. As sad and mournful as the empty boxes beneath it wrapped up as display presents. Christmas wasn’t there.

I looked for it in a Christmas movie, hoping the sight of New York draped in snow and tinsel, at least on film, would evoke something. It wasn’t there.

Nor was it in the marathon of Christmas albums by The Carpenters. For a brief moment, over YouTube, a cover of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” made me wistful—but it wasn’t there either. A well-meaning friend offered unsolicited counsel during a small gathering, where there was plenty of cake and pastries all dolled up in holiday colors: “But you’re looking for it in the wrong places, my friend,“ he said. “You have to remember the real reason for Christmas.” I looked at him with a poker face, ate the head of the icing Santa in my hand, and slowly backed away. Christmas wasn’t in the Santa head either.

Somebody tweeted today: “We have eight days till Christmas, folks!” The merry tweet came complete with emojis of snowmen and fir trees—but it only left me in unbelieving shock, because I hadn’t realized it was that close. It takes a kind of emotional preparation to face the holidays, and as far as I was concerned, this was still June, and December was still the hazy gloriously far-away lump in the horizon.

I’ve considered this for some time now. The days before Christmas are a jittery sort, composed of hours suspended in the limbo of expectations, sugarcoated only by what meager cheer is brought by the elusive signs of the holidays. Christmas is the portal to year’s end—and I think this is where my anxiety lies for the most part. On one hand, many of us are not completely ready to let go of things in the current year, because most of these have yet to reach appropriate completions. We have sworn we cannot end on a note of things undone. But all we can do is half-remember the broken promises of our previous New Year’s resolutions, and think about the uncanny ways life unhappens.

On the other hand, most of us can’t wait for the year to end either—there is a sweetness to the prospect of saying goodbye to all that, to jump on the idea of the fresh start.

But we forget about the flow of days. We forget about how short they can be, how treacherous their seeming elasticity. When we hear the first Christmas song in the first –ber month of the year, we laugh at the absurdity of how early we take in Christmas in this country. The next four months are long, we think, dismissing the frivolity of that first sign of the year ending. And so we slug on, valiantly attempting to make right the unfolding days and night that resist our frail, human designs.

And so when Christmas happens, it always comes as a complete surprise.

Eight more days? You have got to be kidding me.

I suppose I was waiting for furtive changes in the air to tell me Christmas was coming fast. Perhaps some welcome chill in the air to indicate this was December and that the winter solstice has come with the relief of a cold snap for tropical skin. Perhaps some bright, twinkling lights stringed everywhere downtown, embracing buildings and trees and lampposts. Perhaps a ubiquity of holiday music—the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or just even some Jose Mari Chan. Or just Mariah Carey whistling out what she wants for Christmas. But they have largely been sporadic, almost half-hearted in coming.

We have not gotten these reminders, and not for lack of trying by some of us. Notwithstanding the brief erratic snap of cold brought in by magnificent storms barreling from the tumultuous Pacific, there has been no elegant sweater weather, the kind that forces us to exhume from the recesses of our wardrobe the thick, long-sleeved attire for forgotten colder days. It has been a muggy, summery December, and it has become a stretch of the imagination to associate the unspooling season with the imagery of Winter Wonderland.

But I roll my eyes as I read this useless rant. I am just being sadly nostalgic, I tell myself. It is the dominant preoccupation of people in their late 30s, I tell myself. What you want for Christmas, Ian, is the innocent, youthful yearning for the holidays, I tell myself. You know it will never come back again. Yet, still. The last time I felt Dumaguete really going for the Christmas thing was 1999. Back then, the street posts were decked in lights shaped like angels, and business establishments spruced up their facades with holiday displays to rival each other. The Asian crisis killed much of that in degrees, and the city hasn’t recovered since then. It has been fifteen long years.

So I was surprised to see Silliman University’s Christmas tree at the Eastern Quadrangle actually being a quite nice-looking experiment in material and elevation, elegant and minimalist all at once. And the Dumaguete City Christmas tree over at Quezon Park looks equally great decked up the way it is. Last year’s tree was such an epic fail—so this one was a definite improvement. I caught a bit of the lighting ceremony a few nights ago, and they had a boy’s choir sing Christmas songs, a good touch.

So I was surprised to feel stirrings of joy when I spent the last few nights being in mostly unplanned dinners with old college friends. We were older now, and considered the holidays as just another bump in our regular rush of days. But as we laughed and shared memories and drank various flavored chupitos, everything felt right again.

And so I was surprised to consider it didn’t have to take giant signs for Christmas to happen. Last December 12, I trooped to the Luce to catch a concert of handbell ringers, their repertoire shining with staples from the Christmas songbook. It was an attempt to recapture the past. The last time I heard handbells in concert, it was years ago when I was younger and was out in the world for my bit of adventure, and the concert was in a small church and there was snow outside while evening fell, and Christmas colors glistened everywhere. But the past was not recaptured, and I went home amused by how desperately I was searching for the elusive Christmas spirit.

And I thought about it, and it finally didn’t matter. Christmas for now is all about the small, unexpected things—and time with busy old friends who know you’re mad as a hatter, but love you anyway.

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[2] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich