by Nestor Ravilas
It is interesting sometimes to imagine how social culture and its supposed “originator” correlate with each other. It needs some nerves to thread the tedious way comparing robust cultural practices from the original events that inspired them. In traditional paradigm wherein ontology must always precede practice, a foundation for what we are doing should always be available as its legitimizer. This implies that we could not have cultural practices just because people agreed to have it. We always inquire on the efficient cause, factual or fictional, that gave birth to social culture.
Christmas for one is a culture that was inspired by the story of the birth of Jesus the Christ. Christmas is impossible without the nativity story of Jesus. Among many, probably, the purpose of this cultural celebration which is being repeated over and over again is to make the event alive in the life and memory of pursuing generations. It was one important occasion that a cultural monument has to be built to keep its memory alive and fresh.
Over time however, the supposed cultural edifice built upon the original event started to gain a life of its own. Spurred probably by necessity and guided by the distinctive of interpreting community, they creatively re-created the story to make it contextual, appealing, and meaningful to the community. This brings us now to the confusion as to which is giving life to which. Is the original event giving life to the culture, or is it the practice that is perpetually repeated sustains the life now of the story?
So, when December comes, we don’t anticipate Christmas on the perspective of the biblical narration. Rather, we look on the nativity story on the perspective of how the occasion is culturally celebrated in the present day. Amazingly, the social construction has become more powerful than the supposed ontological reason for the celebration.
When you look at the biblical nativity story you see there what is previously not in there. Your own subjectivity plays tricks on you and you see Santa dropping by to award the baby Jesus for behaving nice and good. The reindeer are all present together with the one with red-nose which temporarily tickled Joseph who was a still anxious on what have had really befallen on him. Mary was uneasy, not on how to further explain to Joseph that indeed the conception is a miracle, but what to prepare first to the table – ham, fruit salad, fruit cake, lechon, kastanyas, grapes, apple, etc. The decoration was not yet in place that adds to the mess. Joseph is chilling: few minutes behind Santa are all his inaanaks, pamangkin, kaibigan, kumpare, pushing gallantly towards their house. While the angels keep on knocking bringing them the good news of their newly loaned microwave, gas stove, Flat TV, laptop, smart phone, and Computer.
Jesus, of course, as the center of the occasion is the greatest among the gifts. Unfortunately, we could not afford to have another baby to feed in the house so we preferred gifts more entertaining and amusing like new gadgets and apps. Oh, he was born to save us from our sins; that however should not be dropped from the celebration. That brings relief after having indulged into greediness, discontentment, gluttony, ostentation, individualism, opportunism – to name just a few evils Christmas has spawned.
The baby fortunately escaped the sword of Herod; but not the sting of the “market” – there he is doomed to pay homage to the master that gives him life as one of the favorite icons of Christmas.
Nick Joaquin is right: humans create tools to use, only at the end to control them. We, humans, are gifted to construct and create fiction out of fiction to inspire us to dream and to live. The pragmatics are wrong when they think that “usefulness” as criterion to decide which fiction is better will eventually lead us to a meaningful existence. Still there are opulent few who have the power to create fiction of their own and force it as victor within the battle of political cultures or language game and thus install it as cultural trend that will serve their insatiable ends. Christmas is the first that comes to my mind that epitomizes this kind of cultural arrangement. At any rate, I know it will take us more time to escape from this, so Merry Christmas anyway!