Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Musings

by Petra Gimbad as reported in The Sun 15 Dec 2006

The commercial nature of Christmas is harped on year after year. We buy gifts anyway.

For people we do not care that much for, we budget and buy gifts that try not to appear too cheap. For people we want to impress, which may include the people we love, we splash more to impress. For the people we love, we try our best and hope it is enough.

Here is Christmas as I remember it: the family will attend midnight mass to sing on Christmas Eve. We will return home, catch a few hours of sleep, and try not to curse as we drag ourselves out of bed to sing for the 7am mass. After that is over, we eat breakfast at a nearby coffeeshop before walking back to church to sing for our third mass at 10.30am.

We have porridge for lunch, dinner at a Japanese restaurant walking distance from home and catch up on sleep in-between. Some years, we do not set up the Christmas tree.

Christmas, for me, is not about the day itself. It is about the preparation put into it for an entire month. We practise Christmas carols and pray. Mum and I have conversations about relatives and friends, in relation to forgiveness and letting go.

We renew the realisation, year after year, that we are not perfect and that there is something bigger than our desire to hold on to grudges. We try, at least for a few weeks, not to complain about the people in our lives who are sent to test us.

My flatmate and I bought a cheap Christmas tree today because we will not be home for all of the Christmas celebrations. There are bottles and bottles of jam in front of the tree, which she spent all of last night preparing, bottling, and wrapping for her family, boyfriend, and friends. I have a tiny bottle beside me as I write.

I know that everyone will love what she made, because they are mindful of the love that was put into what she made, even if they do not know that she has been collecting bottles painstakingly for months.

It made me wonder: how many of my friends in Malaysia would appreciate such a gift? Many girlfriends, on an annual basis, oohed and aahed over gifts of branded cosmetics and pricey jewellery. I hope that such repetitious taste is due to lack of imagination, rather than giving in to materialism.

Sincerely, I do not expect gifts from those dearest to me. These people are the stuff of novels, who inspire me by example and whom I know are always there.

If gifts are a measure of how much we care, I am a lousy friend. In recent years, purchases are limited to gifts that I know will mean something to a specific friend or two. This is why I give very few gifts, and they are limited to books, music, or a painting Ð things that I know and can put my heart into.

I would also like to think that any gift I buy can never exceed what I give as a friend.

This is not to criticise the practice of giving and receiving gifts. It is about asking ourselves whether our every act of giving is done meaningfully, and whether we have received what we have been given with grace. Because Christmas is ultimately about love between people with courage and patience enough to do it with eyes wide open.

True love involves loving the people in our lives for who they are, and not who we wish they were. We cannot choose our family. Our friends are not perfect. Neither are the people we date nor our life partners. This applies to all relationships: when the first flush of romance is over, real love can begin. Two people finally see each other for exactly what they are, discover in the absence of fascination that they still have a connection, and choose to continue with that connection, warts and all.

Christmas is only as perfect as the people who celebrate it. All of us hold a different ideal of what it should be. This Christmas, I will try to remember that I am loved and am incredibly, absurdly, blessed. I think I will get the Christmas I hope for this year.

Petra is happy because she knows that love is the answer to all ailment and that love is all around us.