The Poor at Christmas – The Philippines Experience

By Brian Baulch | Blog

Dec 17

Author: Roy Thomsitt

For most of us brought up in Western societies, Christmas long ago became a commercial extravaganza. Over recent decades the commercial impetus has intensified, with Christmas coming to the shops earlier and earlier, until now it arrives in full frontal mode, as soon as the kids go back to school after the summer holidays.

Each decade that has passed since the 1950’s has seen bigger, brighter and more extravagant Christmas decorations, both indoors and outdoors. For those who love Christmas lights and other decor, that’s great, but there’s another side to the story. Decorating the home has become an obligation, which for the very poor can be something of a problem, as neighbours and friends try to outdo each other.

Perhaps the greater problem, though, can be with Christmas gifts. Children have developed greater and greater expectations over the years, and this brings with it pressures on adults, and parents in particular, to pile as many gifts as possible under the Christmas tree, whether they can afford it or not. Often, poorer families cannot afford it, and the financial pressures, fed by the social pressures, mount as Christmas Day nears. All these pressures are fueled, of course, by intense advertising from September through to December 25. It is little wonder that the days after Christmas are a peak time for family break ups.

Due to the fact that most Western children expect some wonderful Christmas gifts, it is no surprise to many when they get them. Sadly, many will never learn to fully appreciate the acts of giving and receiving gifts. Once a gift becomes a routine obligation, it is no longer a gift, but a token. True generosity cannot be found in such tokens.

Hopefully, many poor and rich families will have a meaningful and enjoyable Christmas in the UK, where I come from, and in the US. Poor families in particular will find the financial pressures strongest, but it may well be that the poorer children will be the more appreciative.

Maybe some rich families will experience the fate of a birthday gift to a teenage friend of my son in England. On receiving a top of the range hi-fi system, probably worth about $3000, as a gift, he trashed it a week later, simply because he was bored. I suspect it is less likely that a teenager from a poor family would do the same.

Christmas in the Philippines

Since 2000, all my Christmases have been spent here in the Philippines. After moving here, I soon found what true poverty was, and that, despite all the moans, there is no real poverty in the UK. The “poor” of the UK and US would pass as rich in the Philippines.

My life has been enriched in many ways through spending 6 years here, and getting to understand Filipinos and their way of life. I have been touched by the generosity of the very poor, having visited many ordinary, spartan homes of the desperately poor. For example, one morning I paid a visit to the mother of a friend. She had no food in the home, and I knew the family were often short of food and went hungry. Unbeknown to me, though, a neighbour was preparing what little food her family had to ensure that I had lunch, despite the fact that they knew I could go and buy what I wanted to eat any time, and from anywhere. I knew, too, that the family whose food I ate for lunch, was even poorer than that of my friend. That family would be going hungry that evening, which made me appreciate the hospitality so much I can never forget it.

When it comes to the approach to Christmas, Filipinos lap it all up. They have a festive fun loving spirit anyway, so Christmas is just another excuse. As in the UK, the start of September starts the countdown to Christmas Day, in the stores and on TV. On September 1 here I was woken at 5am by some distant, but rather loud, music. Once I had come to my senses, I realised it was Christmas music. I assumed then it was an individual with a new CD, and that it would be a one off. However, I was wrong. It is now mid November as I write this, and that music (yes, exactly the same) is played every day. Now, I realise it is not an individual at all, but coming from a nearby military base. Each morning, a bugle blasts out the First Post, and then the Christmas music is switched on.

Despite the proliferation of Christmas advertising, and music, Filipinos do not seem to succumb to any pressure to spend too much money over Christmas. There is no expectation of any gift, and I am sure many children never get an Xmas gift in there lives. Yet, people make the most of Christmas in their own way, and it is an important family time. The Christianity of the Philippines is probably far stronger than any Western country, so the religious significance of Christmas is still paramount.

The combination of Filipino generosity, and lack of expectation of a Christmas gift, led me to write a Christmas story last year. I have learnt much about generosity and kindliness since I came here, and for that I have the Filipino nature to thank. In a way, the story was a way of encapsulating what I had learnt, and to admit that Western adults can learn an awful lot, even from a Filipino child. The story, aimed at adults and older children, tells of a 7 year old girl, living in a nipa hut on the edge of the Palawan rain forest, who has never had a Christmas gift before; never expected one, and never complained. When she finally does receive a gift, one that she knows with certainty came from Santa Claus, she is faced with what most Western children would find as a terrible dilemma. The action she took expresses the true spirit of Christmas and true generosity, in typical Filipino fashion.

One thing Filipinos do splash out their sparse cash on is Christmas decorations, especially Christmas lights. It seems even the poorest of homes will try to spread a bit of Christmas cheer with lights from November onwards, and very nice they look too. Puerto Princesa, where we live, is already preparing for its Christmas display and events this year. We cannot wait to see what will be added to the wonderful displays of last December. Poor or not, gifts or not, Christmas has its own tropical magic in the Philippines.

Make the most of Christmas this year with Giant Outdoor Christmas Decorations [] and Nativity Scenes []. Have a wonderful Christmas and a very prosperous New Year.

Article Source: [—The-Philippines-Experience&id=362812] The Poor at Christmas – The Philippines Experience

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