The economics of Christmas
Danilo Araña Arao
Philippine Daily Inquirer (Youngblood), 28 December 1995, p. 7
IT'S in times like this that my plan for the future gets reduced to having Windows 95, CD-ROM, a sound blaster and a 32-MB random access memory. (Of course, a Z-modem and e-mail subscription would be good, but of what use are they without a phone line?)
Right now, I get the feeling that having all of these would make me complacent and apathetic. I could forget about the struggle for a better society, and think more about the revolution of necessities rather than the necessity of revolution.
But then again, this crosses my mind for only a few hours. As I turn off my computer or it breaks down all of a sudden (whichever comes first), I get my share of reality check and it pains me like a wisdom tooth crying for extraction.
The bills keep coming in, and my 13th-month pay and salaries for December are already "spent." Whatever was left of them went to gifts, noche buena, fireworks and other Christmas-related expenses.
As I am forced to go through the rigors of Christmas celebration, I tend to ask myself three basic questions: (1) Why and how did we imbibe the Western culture of materialism that characterizes Christmas? (2) Why are even poor families forced to spend a lot for food and gifts? (3) Why is the government not exhorting the people to spend less and pray more in this so-called Season of Hope?
Of course, my first two questions are both cultural and psychological (and, depending on one's beliefs, also spiritual). There are many answers that come to mind, and you can definitely think of even more. We can start with the Christian virtue of giving without expecting, and end with cultural imperialism rearing its ugly head.
As regards the third, it is really "economics" and "public relations" combined.
The government would want everyone to spend a lot during Christmas, since this would definitely reflect in the computation of the GNP. If you would look at statistics, the expenditure section is quite high from October to December, reflecting the extravagance of most Filipinos during the Christmas season.
We all know how the government harped on the GNP growth of 5.2 percent in the first six months of 1995. We have also been bombarded with rosy projections by the end of this year, allegedly signifying that we are on our way to NIChood by the year 2000.
Have we forgotten the government's decision last year to light the whole metropolis, particularly strategic places like Makati and Star City? On the surface, this may look like an effort to ensure security. But if this is so, they would have done it throughout the year. In the final analysis, this is actually an implicit exhortation for parents to take their children out even in the middle of the night and expose them to the materialist kind of Christmas.
These initiatives, together with GNP pronouncements, are good PR mechanisms not only for foreign investors but also for poor and middle-class Filipinos. If we were really led to believe that development is indeed in the offing, what's the reason to expose and oppose, and what's the point of having to arouse, organize and mobilize the toiling masses?
I guess in my struggle for change, I also have to fight my own battle this season --- to resist materialist temptations and make my students, colleagues and friends (in that order) do the same. No crispy pata, no lechon, no fried chicken, no fruit cake, no grapes, no apples, no queso de bola, no ham. No, there will also be no computer paraphernalia, at least not until I can really afford it.
Now, I ask myself another question: Why do I get the feeling that this will be a happy Christmas (at least, for me)?
Danilo Araña Arao, 27, is a writer and teacher who seriously thought of boycotting Christmas.