The sad Christmas trees

Updated: Dec 11, 2020


Manila – I went out more often when Metro Manila’s lockdown restrictions were relaxed at the beginning of the year’s fourth quarter. I saw more people in the streets and parks. More people also dared to dine, have coffee, talk and spend long hours in restaurants and coffee shops.

Plant enthusiasts have also started crowding plant and garden shops especially because the prices of plants – from succulents to fruit plants and ornamentals – were going back to their normal tags before the lockdown. This is apart from treating themselves to plant therapy or just taking pleasure in their newfound interest in plants, which has become a phenomenon during the pandemic.

The month before the last quarter, or September in the Philippines is always the time when the Christmas season starts to show up like a phantom. It’s when malls and department stores devote wide sections of their stores to artificial Christmas trees of different sizes, colors and designs. Families, neighbors and communities bring out their Christmas bells, balls and buntings and adorn their windows, doors, fences, lamp posts and streets. It’s only September but that’s the way it is in the country that is said to have the longest Christmas celebration in the world.

I ambled in awe at the line of Christmas trees the first time I saw them in the department store. I cooed at the sight of santas, snowmen and mistletoes that were equally striking. I lingered at every set of Christmas lights, my favorite ornament of the season. I was startled at these reminders of the holidays when the last few months prior was about being distressed and numbed.

But as I gazed at them, there was something odd — the Christmas trees looked sad; the Christmas lights flickered sullenly. I felt the same way the second time and the next few times I saw the trees in the malls, and anywhere that I didn’t want to look anymore.

As the months went by during the lockdown, people asked how the most important season of the year will be, and if it will happen at all. But by the looks of September alone, the signs were obvious, and now, December is here and Christmas is happening.

But nature hasn’t been kind to the Philippines as large regions of the country struggled to rise up from flooding, displacement and difficulties caused by the destructive tropical storms. The compounding burdens of the pandemic and natural disasters make the last few months of the year remarkable and the year-end somewhat dreary.

I just read that in some parts of the United States and Europe that are used to putting up their Christmas trees on Dec. 25 or a few days before that, some people put up their trees and trimmings in October and November to minimize seasonal affective disorder, the feelings of despair and low moods at the approach of the season and of winter. They also said they did this to fight off the dreadful effects of the pandemic.

I also read that in other parts of the world, the demand for Christmas trees increased by the approach of the last three months of the year because people wanted to look at something happy. But when they put up their trees, they felt that something was still missing.

I understand the world when it wants the year 2020 to end as soon as possible. My understanding is reinforced by the reality that this is the worst year for humanity because the coronavirus locked them in and disrupted their lives. It’s not that easy to deal with the Grinch that made even the Christmas trees look sad and depressing.

Diana G. Mendoza is a journalist based in Manila.

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