I recently bumped into someone whom I hadn’t seen since the Christmas holidays. She greeted me “Happy New Year, Happy Chinese New Year, Happy Valentine’s….” and her next words were, “How was your holidays?” And as is my standard reply, “Oh I don’t celebrate the holidays”. And her jaws dropped and she gave me this incredulous, almost shocked look. It’s a pretty normal response that I get and I’ve gotten used to it.
I can’t recall when the last time was that I celebrated Christmas in the traditional sense. Ditto with Valentine’s. In fact, even as far back as my teenage years when I was madly in love with my first boyfriend, I didn’t even have any desire at all to be part of the Valentine’s frenzy. No, I’m not a jaded man-hater. Neither am I a cold-hearted, unromantic lover. I’m only making conscious choices and opting out of those that don’t serve me.
When it’s the season for these holidays and festivals, part of me actually mourns and feels deep sorrow. I grieve for the loss of humanity’s grasp of the true meaning of these festivities. And I feel a certain angst for how we have collectively allowed ourselves to succumb to the lures of materialism and consumerism. We really didn’t have to, but we did and we continue to do so. To this day, we give it our full consent and permission.
We stress ourselves unnecessarily on the most “meaningful” gift to buy (or desperately hope to receive, or buy one at the last-minute because someone gave us a present when they were not on our list), which concert or show to watch (making sure we get the best or most expensive seats), the “proper” outfit to wear (or one that will make us stand out and upstage even the host/hostess), the most intricate and elaborate decorations to adorn our homes (to impress our guests or outdo our neighbors), countless parties to host ar attend (and to be “seen”) — and all these come with a price, a hefty, hugely, insanely, unreasonably, “sinful”, maybe even unforgivable price.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t participate in any of these festivals at all. Or boycott them and just sulk in despair and misery. By all means, if you feel drawn to celebrate, then do so. But let us be conscious and cautious of what our true intentions are, and how we celebrate.
Are we doing it because we find deep fulfillment and it feeds our soul, or are we doing it only because it’s been tradition? Out of obligation perhaps? Are we merely allowing ourselves to be pressured by society? By our culture? Are we largely concerned about what other people will think or say if we don’t take part in them, yet deep inside, we really don’t want to and would rather have a quiet evening or a solitary moment?
In my country of origin, the Philippines, the opinion and perception of others is often given more importance than one’s personal wants and desires. The holiday season and festivals could surely get overly stressful for many. Nakakahiya, ano na lang ang sasabihin ng ibang tao (It’s embarrassing, what will other people say) is a standard and often culturally acceptable response, enough to justify sacrificing one’s personal happiness and choices, even peace of mind, for one’s “reputation”. Shaming in general is not only a Filipino but an Asian cultural thing. Sad but it’s the truth. And that’s reality.
But can we not change our reality, shift our paradigm, and just because it’s tradition, does that merit it unbreakable?
I have reached a point in my life when I no longer concern or care much about what others think or say about me. At the end of the day, it’s between me and my God.
I do something because I want to and it serves me well, regardless of what others’ expectations or conclusions are. This attitude has helped me in my stern refusal to participate and contribute to the ridiculously widespread commercialization of the holidays and festivals. It’s a choice I’ve made for several years now. And it’s very liberating!
So when I hear people complain about the outrageously priced gifts or the horrific traffic condition and equally horrific driving habits, and the maddening crowd, and all the chaos during the holidays — all because everyone has just become overly stressed — part of me joyously smiles. And I’m ever so grateful because I’m no longer experiencing their dilemma.
And so during times of holidays and festivals, such as this Valentine’s season, as the rest of the world is celebrating with (outrageously expensive) flowers and chocolates, wines and roses, dining and dancing, I too am celebrating.
I am celebrating my freedom — freedom from the crippling grip of traditions past and the paralyzing and hypnotizing spell of business establishments and consumerism.
Wherever you are and however you choose to celebrate, may you choose what serves you well, and only that which feeds your soul and makes your spirit soar!
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