Celebrating Christmas in Times of Trouble


Henrylito D. Tacio

Mr. Tacio, who hails from Davao, is a correspondent of the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. He is the first and only Filipino journalist to have been elevated to the Hall of Fame in science reporting by the Philippine Press Institute. In 1999, the Rotary Club of Manila bestowed him the Journalist of the Year award. He is also East Asia’s contributing editor of the People & the Planet based in London.

For comments, henrytacio@gmail.com

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” – Steve Maraboli, author of Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Three is considered a magical number. Christians, for instance, believe in the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). Because number 3 is associated with religion and magic, things were said to come in threes. So are bad things.

The popular saying came to mind when a powerful earthquake with magnitude 6.3 hit some portions of Mindanao on October 16. (According to the United States Geological Survey, magnitude is “a number that characterizes the relative size of an earthquake.” It is based on measurement of the maximum motion recorded by seismograph.)

After a series of aftershocks continued to jolt southern Mindanao, a stronger earthquake with magnitude 6.6 smashed North Cotabato and Davao del Sur on October 29. Just when everyone thought it was already over, another earthquake with magnitude 6.5 struck the same areas.

In Central Mindanao, the most affected towns are Makilala, M’lang, Tulunan and Kidapawan City. Most of those which suffered devastation in Southern Mindanao were mostly from Davao del Sur: Bansalan, Digos City, Kiblawan, Magsaysay, Malita, Matan-ao, Padada, Santa Cruz, and Santa Maria.

Although some buildings collapsed and houses destroyed, there were only few casualties. But there were some families who could no longer return to their homes as the place is no longer safe for residency. In Magsaysay, Davao del Sur, for instance, more than 50 families won’t be able to go back to their place in barangay Malawanit due to the gradual sinking of the land in the said area.

Thousands of families and individuals were displaced. In fact, right after the October 16 tremor, there were some families who didn’t sleep inside their homes and instead built tents outside their homes. When the two other tremors came successively, there was no other choice but to live outside their homes.

“I don’t feel inside my house anymore,” said Meryl Louise Lapinig, a mother of two whose youngest is only five months old. “My husband is a seaman and he is not with us right now. My eldest is already traumatized.” To some children, living in a tent seems to be fun as they thought they were just camping out. “Sleeping inside a tent with your family for three weeks is easy,” said Jhunie Amaba, who lives in barangay Rizal in Bansalan, Davao del Sur. “You have this fear that your tent will be destroyed by a strong wind or if it rains and a strong wind blows the water might come inside the tent. I have also to think of my one-year-old baby.”

The family built their tent outside of their house since some portions were badly damaged by the series of earthquakes. “I could not think of camping out in the evacuation area where there are so many families packed together. As there is no enough water and a place where they could do their necessities, diseases would be a big problem.”

It is during this time of calamities and natural disasters that brings out the best of a person. As gospel singer Kevin Health puts it: “Whenever there is a human need, there is an opportunity for kindness and to make a difference.”

Veteran Davao journalist Serafin Ledesma, Jr. considers this as Christmas in itself. “The unprecedented outpouring from unknown donors to unknown recipients who are victims of the earthquakes exemplify Christmas. It is a season of giving and receiving and there is no better time to celebrate Christmas than now.

In his social account, he wrote: “Faceless individuals and groups responded to the call for assistance,” Ledesma continued. “It’s overwhelming. There were awe-inspiring acts of charity. Inmates in Surigao volunteered to cut their meager food supply by half so they can dispatch the half to quake victims. Movie actress Angel Locsin came to Davao City surreptitiously, did her own shopping for varied relief items, the same way she did during the Marawi siege.”

Among the mayors who responded early to the call of help were Pasig’s Vico Sotto and Manila’s Isko Moreno. The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office also extended financial assistance of P10-million to the two most affected provinces (North Cotabato and Davao del Sur).

Although Davao City was also affected by the tremors and aftershocks, it didn’t stop Mayor “Inday” Sara Duterte-Carpio to immediately organize a rescue, relief and rehabilitation center that was also tasked to receive, sort out, repack for immediate delivery to evacuation centers in the two most affected provinces. Mayor Duterte rode her big bike as she personally surveyed places where the earthquakes hit hard. She reportedly drove as far as Tulunan, North Cotabato, the epicenter of the earthquakes.

But there were those who were against the idea of people sharing their activities of extending help to those affected by the earthquakes on social media. “I feel there is nothing wrong about it,” says Jason John Joyce, the mayor of Jose Abad Santos, Davao del Sur. “The posts showing the generous nature of Filipinos certainly inspires and influences more people to give and to share.”

Kindness, in whatever form, deserves appreciation. “Kindness, whether done in private or shown publicly (social media, etc.), brings hope and happiness,” Joyce points out. “It connects and unites people. So go ahead, be kind, inspire more people and make this world a more loving place.”

At this time of the year, people should have been in good moods already as Christmas is fast approaching. But if you go to those affected areas, you don’t see people smiling and looking forward for Christmas celebration. You don’t ever hear Christmas carols being played.

“Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts,” wrote English writer and actress Joan Winmill Brown. “No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given — when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.”

In this time of tremors, there are those who believe that Christmas should still be celebrated no matter what. “We should celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – sa hirap at ginhawa, whether there is calamity or not, Christmas happens,” says Beniel Alcantara, a retired policeman.

Janoz Laquihon, a radio broadcaster, suggests that Christmas celebration this year should be celebrated in a unique way, although he didn’t elaborate what “unique” means. “We can still celebrate Christmas in a simple way and not bongacious as it was before,” shares May Ladesa, a wife of a barangay captain.

“Christmas celebration doesn’t always need to have a lot of food,” says Rinel Dacanay, who used to work as an extension worker in far-flung areas of Mindanao. “We can celebrate it in by thanking God for the gift of life. By giving us a new beginning to witness how the Lord would do things through the troubles that had happened.”

The words of Daily Motivator come to mind: “No matter what kind of troubles you may have, just think of how fortunate you are to be alive and living in a world where almost anything is possible. Consider for a moment the good things you have, and the good things that you can accomplish through your willingness, determination and action.”

Despite all the troubles, the key is to concentrate on what you have, not what you don’t have. No matter how upsetting the situation you now face, consider yourself blessed. “The things that count the most cannot be counted,” someone once said. English pioneer Baptist missionary William A. Ward agrees: “The more we count the blessings we have, the less we crave the luxuries we haven’t.”

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some,” English writer and social critic Charles Dickens urges. Thankfully, we all have a lot more going for us than it sometimes appears. Yet, with blessings aplenty, far too many people still plod along holding tight to their scarcity state of mind. They don’t see much good happening to them and not surprisingly, not much of anything ever happens in their lives. It never occurs to them that what they don’t see is exactly what they don’t get.

A timely thought from an unknown author should remind everyone as the world commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ: “Count your blessings instead of your crosses. Count your gains instead of your losses. Count your joys instead of your woes. Count your friends instead of your foes. Count your smiles instead of your tears. Count your courage instead of your fears. Count your full years instead of your lean. Count your kind deeds instead of your mean. Count your health instead of your wealth.”

American author Norman Vincent Peale, who popularized the concept of positive thinking, said it well: “I truly believe that if we keep telling the Christmas story, singing the Christmas songs, and living the Christmas spirit, we can bring joy and happiness and peace to this world.”

Merry Christmas!

“Kindness, whether done in private or shown publicly (social media, etc.), brings hope and happiness. It connects and unites people. So go ahead, be kind, inspire more people and make this world a more loving place.”

– John Joyce, mayor of Jose Abad Santos, Davao del Sur

“No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given — when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.”

– Joan Winmill Brown, English writer and actress

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