by Jewelle Mendoza-Reyes
During my childhood, I grew up in a tradition of receiving a gift from “Santa Claus.” I was probably six when my mom and my sisters started conniving to make me believe that Santa Claus will drop by our place to leave my gift while we were all out for the Christmas Eve mass. I commend them for their efforts to make it more believable like setting up props. One time, upon arrival from the church, I remember finding a half-filled glass of soda left on our dinner table. And so I innocently thought, “Maybe Santa got thirsty along the way!”
I was in my 6th grade when they finally revealed the truth about the jolly white-bearded man dressed in a red suit. Being the youngest of four, I am the last recipient of this family custom. I would say that the tradition, which ran for six long years, was part of the fun of my childhood and growing up!
As I grew older and had a job, I developed a personal gift-giving tradition. As early as September, I would start buying Christmas gifts for family, colleagues, and friends. Perhaps like Santa, I keep a loooong list of my giftees: from guards, messengers, telephone operators, office staff, warehouse personnel to managers; from community leaders to ministry friends; from parents, siblings, in-laws to youngest grandchildren. I have to keep my list in an Excel sheet for easy monitoring!
Gift-giving at Christmas time has become our inevitable gesture. It’s like our second nature! Come to think of it, we give a gift to at least one person year after year. Regardless of the size or value, we will always have something to hand to someone.
The tradition of gift-giving for us Catholics can be traced back to the Feast of the Epiphany, with the magi coming to worship the newborn King at Bethlehem. They offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Perhaps that is why it works as the ultimate deadline for some Filipino Catholics when they are far behind their gift-giving.
Eventually, secularization commercialized this religious origin. Thus, the hustle and bustle of shopping malls and bazaars as early as November. People are running from store to store looking for the perfect gift. Along with the Christmas rush, anxiety about what to buy heightens.
In the face of all the consumerism around us, have we ever wondered why we actually give gifts? Is it because of the pressure of exchanging gifts at Christmas parties? Is it because of the 13th month pay giving you extra cash to finally buy a loved one a gift on his wish list? Is it to impress someone with the value of our gift? Is it to return a favor? Is it an expression of gratitude to someone? Or is it because you’ve found a much deeper sense of doing it?
Every year, my mother can’t help but ask me why I would buy a lot of gifts. Over the course of those years, and as my faith evolved, I figured that the deepest and most powerful reason for me is the three letters: J-O-Y.<