I originally wrote this for my Special Problems in Musicology (MuL 198) class. These are just some of my views on one of the most celebrated traditions during Christmas. Minor edits are done.
The Yuletide Season has come once again and some shopping malls have started holding pre-Christmas sale fairs to allow gift-givers to spend less without dampening their thoughtfulness. Some radio stations in the Philippines have already played some of the most popular Christmas originals, mostly by Jose Mari Chan. However, these manifestations during the “-ber” months only reflect the mercantilistic and capitalist side of preparation for Yuletide celebrations. It even reached the extent that people would forget the more spiritual context of celebrating Christmas. In relation to the issues of capitalism, this paper would discuss the problematic side of the people’s high obsession with exchanging gifts during Christmas.
The exchange of Christmas gifts, more known as the “Kris Kringle” or “Monito Monita,” is often done during Christmas parties held in schools, offices, and organizations. Preparations are often done, either weeks or days before by collecting all the names of the participants wherein each participant would randomly get a piece of paper which contained another participant’s name. He/she would not be allowed to reveal his/her recipient until the day of the party. As for the gifts, they may fall under a specific team (e.g., “Something shiny,” “something soft”). Sometimes, each participant would provide his/her “wish list” to guide the giver in shopping for the gift. Sometimes, there were no drawing of lots done so the gift exchange is sometimes done through Christmas stories with the words “LEFT” and “RIGHT,” which signify change of direction wherein the final recipients are revealed at the end of the story (del Rosario, n.d.).
The provision of these so-called “wish lists” is however problematic. The true spirit of Christmas has become more difficult, especially if theses lists contained expensive items, such as iPads, designer bags such as Louis Vuitton, DSLR cameras, laptops, etc. However, no matter how expensive or inexpensive the gift is, the thought is still more important. Price should not become a big deal in buying and giving gifts (Tenorio, 2015). But, not everyone is willing to give nor receive gifts, despite the presence of the person’s emotions (Tuazon, 2015). Some of the dangers in becoming too obsessed with exchanging gifts are the following: guilt for the part of the recipient and tendency to give back or the so-called “kaliwaan” (Tuazon,2015). The concept of “kaliwaan” deals with the notion that someone should give back whenever he/she receives something (Tuazon, 2015). In giving gifts, one should pay it forward, rather than pay someone back (Arada, 2015). Based from Marilyn Strathern’s analysis of Melanesian gift economies, she mentioned that gifts were objects which became an avenue in making relationships visible. In relation to the culture of “kaliwaan”, reciprocation used to be a divine concept but it later became materialistic, opportunistic, and consumerist, which slowly ingrained in Philippine culture that one is often pressured to give something (Tobias, 2015).
A person’s social status is likewise one of the things that rather made exchange of gifts, not limited to Christmas gifts a business. While the selection of godparents for weddings and baptism was initially meant for the child’s and/or couple’s spiritual growth, it has been based on social status and/or power (Tobias, 2015). Some would even go out of their way by choosing their bosses as one of the godparents for they knew that their bosses would either elevate their status symbol or help them financially over time (Tobias, 2015).
Since it has become unethical in the Philippine society not to give back, it has become a pressure to the Filipinos to give gifts which made gift-giving a business, rather than a social activity. The “utang na loob” culture has been exasperating this situation for the person is forced to give something best to the people they are grateful to, even if it meant spending beyond their means (Arada, 2015). It would be embarrassing for him/her not to do so for he/she would seem ungrateful in the eyes of the society. For instance,this was one of the reasons why giving gifts to any government official and/or employee. According to the R. A. No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and Presidential Decree No. 46 (Giving of Gifts on any Occasion) of 1972, doing such practice for better favors and/or better treatment is punishable by law.
In the year 2007, security personnel of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) were warned by then-general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), Alfonso Cusi on greeting passengers “Merry Christmas,” which could equate to requests for either money solicitation. Small talks which could indirectly mean a request for something were likewise not allowed (Punongbayan, 2007). However, in the year 2016, it was clearly allowed for the NAIA personnel to greet passengers a “Merry Christmas” but without facing their palms up, as per MIAA general manager Ed Monreal. Monreal also warned in jest that those personnel caught soliciting gifts ‘might not see Christmas because they’ll be sent to the freezer and thawed by New Year’. The same warning also applied to the Bureau of Immigration and Bureau of Customs employees based in NAIA (Andrade, 2016).
Both politics and capitalism have affected the culture of gift-giving, especially during Christmas. It likewise had both good and bad effects. One of the positive effects of gift-giving is that the person’s relationship would be remembered through an emblem. However, price should not dictate the person’s significance to his/her recipient.
Andrade, Jeanette. “Airport staff told: OK to say Merry Christmas, but… Philippine Daily Inquirer. 26 November 2016. http://globalnation.inquirer.net/150122/airport-staff-told-ok-say-merry-christmas
Punongbayan, Michael. “No more merry Christmas at NAIA”. philstar Global. 17 October 2007. http://www.philstar.com/news-feature/21649/no-more-merry-christmas-naia
Quimbo, Rodrigo. “Anti-Corruption in the Philippines”. Conventus Law. 9 September 2016. http://www.conventuslaw.com/report/anti-corruption-in-the-philippines/
See, Aie. “The grace behind Filipino gift-giving”. Philippine Daily Inquirer. 25 December 2015. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/750039/the-grace-behind-filipino-gift-giving
Tenorio, Sherry. “Christmas Giving – Scrooge or Not?. illustradolife. 7 December 2015. http://www.illustradolife.com/christmas-giving-scrooge-not/