"Welcome to the holiday season in the Philippines."
You know Christmas is in the air when the shopping malls in the metro area are alit with colorful lights and lanterns. Filipinos, this early, are doing their shopping for children’s toys and Noche Buena fare. Cubao, Pasig or the Makati business district are trying to outdo each other with Christmas lights complete with Christmas carols.
A crowd drawer which brings people even from nearby provinces like Bulacan, Laguna, and Cavite is the thousands of Christmas lights accompanied by music and songs of the season at the Ayala Triangle Park bounded by Paseo de Roxas, Makati Avenue and of course Ayala Avenue itself which is traditionally lit with Christmas lights décor.
This is Christmas in the Philippines which draws many of our balikbayans this time of the year. They are “snowbirds” who want to flee the fierce winter in the US Midwest and East Coast.
I too, enjoy and won’t exchange Christmas in the Philippines with other Yuletide celebrations in other countries. But there was a time when I enjoyed Christmas in a foreign land. Posted as ambassador in Poland, I could not get a flight from Warsaw to Manila because of Filipino balikbayans who booked in advance. Thus my wife and I spent it in a foreign country. Our choice was Strasbourg, the seat of The European Parliament and the city that straddles the border of France and Germany.
Strasbourg was an excellent alternative destination. From Warsaw we took a flight to Cologne and then took the train to Strasbourg. The train station was near the city center where our median-priced hotel was centrally located. We immediately went out to explore the city and had an early dinner in a resto-bar. A city of several plazas, where each competed in their lights and Christmas décor,we spent the evening and late night just walking around to get a fill of the savoir fare of what the city has to offer.
The next day was spent on a river cruise with the tour guide telling tourists and visitors about the various landmarks, including the European parliament. Since we were not much for shopping, my wife opted to take a tour inside the European Parliament which I imagined must sound like a cacophony of voices of different languages translated of course by the official interpreters. Whether French, German, English or Spanish, all these thoughts are harnessed into one unifying law to form an EU legislative measure.
With Britain exiting the European Union, there are concerns whether Brexit would be a major factor in European unity – or just a kink in the Union.
What I will miss most in Europe and America are the changing of the seasons, from the verdant foliage of summer to the canvas of red, yellow and brown leaves of autumn and then the first drop of winter’s snow which augurs the advent of Christmas.
But what is the real meaning of Christmas? More than the white snow or the changing color of leaves that herald the season’s most celebration occasion, Christmas is really the coming together of family and friends for a renewal of ties and special relationships.
In a homily during the Mass celebrated at the Don Bosco church, the priest spoke about Advent and a new Liturgical Year. Its observance prepares our hearts to celebrate the wonder of Christmas, the birth of Christ celebrated by Christians all over the world and to dwell on the coming of each new year as a time for a future with hope and serenity for all.
We wish one and all a Merry Christmas this early and a prosperous New Year!