In the U.S., I complain that stores start pulling out Christmas decorations and start advertising Christmas sales earlier and earlier every year. To me, ever the cynical one, it’s just more proof that Christmas is little more than a time to buy more stuff that no one really needs.
Little did I know that there’s a group of 7,000 islands in Asia where 90 percent of the population celebrates Christmas for four months. Christmas in the Philippines, I’ve learned, starts in September and ends around Valentine’s Day.
(I’m not sure why Christmas finally comes to an end around Valentine’s Day. Other than the possible Christmas fatigue that could set in after four months of egg nog, my only guess is that the one thing Filipinos love more than two of Christmas’ main activities – eating and shopping – is love and romance.)
Well before I had a chance to cross the last day of October off my calendar, big displays of Christmas decorations, wrapping paper and cards started popping up in stores. And I believe it was the first day of November when I walked into work to find a huge fake Christmas tree, already decorated, in the lobby. Signs in the hallways were decorated with fake sprigs of evergreen, pointsettas and ribbon. I can’t go to my grocery store anymore without hearing some version of “White Christmas,” which is funny enough to hear in late October and early November, but downright bizarre in a place where Christmas Day will be 90 degrees and humid.
Now, two weeks into November, Christmas is in full swing here in Manila. A week ago I told a coworker that I had consumed an average of one piece of chocolate cake a day for the last week.
“Well, it’s Christmas,” she said in a tone that made it sounds like she was explaining the most obvious thing in the world.
Right, it’s Christmas. How could I forget?
To top it all off, I’m experiencing a bit of holiday anxiety. Usually this doesn’t kick in for me until after Thanksgiving – when I realize I have to actually think about Christmas presents and possibly attend numerous awkward parties.
Christmas in China was sort of a relief. No pressure to buy presents, no parties; just a big dinner sponsored by the English Department. The only reminders of the holiday were a few Santa head cutouts affixed to restaurant windows around town.
Here it’s expected that everyone gives Christmas presents to practically everyone. I get panicky when I think about how many people my list could possibly include. I can’t seem to escape the notion that Christmas is rapidly approaching — and if I don’t get all my shopping done now I risk suffocatingly crowded markets and malls!
I’ve been doing my best to ignore it. And when I feel like it’s too much to take, I can escape to Starbucks, where I can get a peppermint mocha in a red paper cup decorated with snowflakes.