Bah Humbug! How The U.S. Gets Christmas Wrong And The Philippines Gets It Right
It’s not the U.S. versus the Philippines–it’s the Grinch versus Buddy the Elf
I spent a lot of time during my post-college years in the Philippines visiting my father. While my Dad was at work, I would take the underground tunnel from his place to Powerplant Mall in Makati, where I’d spend my days sitting in the National Bookstore browsing paperbacks and snacking on American junk food. It was there, while eating a cheeseburger in McDonalds that Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You, came over the loudspeaker.
I was perplexed; it was September.
In the U.S., this was unheard of and would probably have led to a customer complaint. Later that night, I asked my Dad about it, and he told me of the bachania that is Christmas in the Philippines. As a lifelong Christmas lover, I was jealous to find the season is nearly five months long! How had I never known that my spirit animal country—at least when it comes to Christmas—was chilling on the other side of the world with its spectacular beaches, cheap paperback books and Mariah Carey Christmas IN SEPTEMBER?
I’ve always loved Christmas. But many Americans have become increasingly antagonistic about the holiday in recent years. They complain incessantly when someone mentions Christmas before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the holiday where we gather with our loved ones to give thanks for what we have, and then the following day people go out and shiv each other for a deal on a crock pot. Seriously, if you’ve never heard of Black Friday, look it up if you want to lose all faith in humanity.
Being a religiously diverse country, the terms Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays are equally divisive. If you say “Merry Christmas,” people are concerned you’re not being inclusive. If you say “Happy Holidays,” they’re offended that you aren’t acknowledging Christmas. Basically, you can’t win.
In this beautiful, joyful season, Americans always find something to bitch about. No matter how many Christmas movies we watch, we don’t learn any lessons! The U.S. is like Ebeneezer Scrooge or perhaps the Grinch: grumpy and ungrateful. The Philippines is like Buddy the Elf: joyful and celebratory! If asked to pick between the two, especially between the months of September to January, the Philippines wins, hands down.
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Now, in times of COVID, with gatherings being limited and highly discouraged, how can we get in the Christmas spirit? I could be snarky and say that we should all get drunk (and I will probably do that any way) but, in this dumpster fire of a year, I think we all deserve a lot more than that (even if we have to be socially distant while doing it).
One of my favorite things is decorating the tree. Even if it’s made of paper and hangs on the wall! No need to spend lots of money on fancy ornaments and lights, a great family activity is to make your own ornaments and decorations. Plus, you can save them and add new ones each year. I still have ornaments my parents and I handmade from over thirty years ago. There’s something lovely about taking pieces of our childhood out of their tissue paper wrapper and putting them on display to reflect on simpler times.
And even though I know we’ve all been binge-watching this whole year, there are some hilariously cheesy Christmas movies to be found on Netflix. My personal favorites are the ones that involve fictional countries and royalty. I’ve been having weekly watch parties with my friends over Facebook, where we’ve discovered the drunken hilarity of the Netflix Christmas Cinematic Universe.
And while Filipino Christmas dishes and American Christmas dishes differ, nothing says Christmas like cooking and baking. In the U.S. baking and decorating sugar cookies is a big thing but, while delicious, I have a big hankering for some famous Filipino coconut macaroons or San Nicolas cookies right now.
Perhaps in another year, I’ll be able to return to the wonderful country of the Philippines and experience the Christmas cheer I so envy but, until then, eat a lot of cookies, watch a lot of movies, and stay healthy and safe.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Words Nicole Caliro (an American, for the record)
Art Matthew Fetalver