Of Christmas, Faith and
The Search for Truth…
My first Christmas in Japan was spent with my Uzbek flatmate, Barno who happens to be Muslim. I had no plan to celebrate the holidays but Barno was adamant. “Tish, please…please let’s have Christmas decorations,” she begs. So we decided to celebrate Christmas Filipino style, meaning we had to put up decorations once the “ber” months arrive. I thought September’s still so early and October was a busy month for us, so we opted to start working on our apartment’s Christmas decoration mid November. This was fine by me. With limited budget, we scoured all one hundred yen shops for unique Christmas decors; the others we made ourselves. Barno had fun; so had I. One thing I noticed though: we couldn’t find the iconic ‘belen’ anywhere in Japan so we didn’t have one. By Philippine standard, our Christmas décor was not complete.
In spite of the absence of ‘belen’, Barno was so happy with what we had. “This is the first time I’ll be experiencing Christmas the way Christians do,” she gushes. The excitement on her face was so contagious that in spite of being away from home, I was able to enjoy my first Christmas in Japan. One time while I was telling Barno about how majority of the Filipinos celebrate Christmas, she said something that made me think for a few minutes. “Tish, I always associate Christmas with snow. How complete can your Christmas get when there’s no snow in the Philippines?” she asks. For a while there I was forced to think of home and the many Christmases of my childhood. I realized Barno was talking about the Christmas she sees on movies and television… the Christmas she only read about.“Barno, even though Christmas is already fast becoming a commercial enterprise in my country, the Christians really celebrate it to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ,” I explain to her. Barno knows who Jesus Christ so there was no need to explain to her his significance in the life of Christians. What floored me though was the next question that came: “Was Jesus really born December 25? I have read somewhere that this was not his exact birth date.”
What can I say? Christians do celebrate Jesus Christ’s birthday on December 25. This is a tradition that has been handed down to us by generations upon generations. When I was younger I was not scholarly enough to debate my parents or my local priest on this. When I grew older, I got busier by the day that dwelling on the literature of the Christian faith has become secondary, tertiary even, until Barno asked me THE question and I was forced to admit that I really didn’t know.
Since then I would sometimes find myself questioning the veracity of everything I’ve been taught in my Roman Catholic upbringing. I knew even then that my faith in a Higher Being is so strong it’s unshakeable. On the other hand, I also know that I cannot allow blind faith to rule my life. I needed to find answers to my questions. The road I’ve been trudging has brought me into collision with my parents several times but I persevered. I still carry on.
There are those who insist that December 25 was chosen as Jesus Christ’s birthday to counter the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival held in honor of Saturn. Accordingly, Saturnalia is a festival of light leading to the winter solstice, with the generous presence of candles symbolizing the quest for knowledge and truth. The renewal of light and the coming of the new year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire at the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus (translation: birthday of the unconquerable sun) on December 25. The literature on this and its relation to current Christmas day is so substantial it only earned me more questions. I still love Christmas, who doesn’t? Even my non-Christian friends – and I have loads of them – love it. The element of positivity that permeates the air during the holidays seems to give human beings hope for a better year ahead. Oh yes, Christmas brings out the best in everyone, me included. So happy Christmas, everyone!
Meantime, my quest for the truth continues.