The Present

The Present

Thirty-seven people perished in a fire yesterday. Survivor accounts of thick, black, choking smoke suddenly pouring out of vents, of fluorescent bulbs exploding overhead, of a lobby plunged into darkness, of people screaming in fear and panic, all of it was difficult to read about, to digest. It’s easy to forget, with  Christmas looming so near, that horrible things happen to people every day, irrespective of season or timing. It’s easy to forget because this is supposed to be a holiday filled with love, with joy, with goodwill to all men and there’s just this sort of happiness in the air, covering everything that’s awful in a year that’s been particularly trying.

It’s not like me to wax poetic about tragedies. I do feel, and strongly, for people who are victims of devastating fate, but I rarely wear my heart on my sleeve about these things. This tragedy hit particularly close to home because the victims were part of what used to be my world – they were call centre agents, wrapping up work for the holidays, eager to go home and spend Christmas with their families, and I know what that felt like. I know what it was – and is – to look forward to seeing family I haven’t seen for months on end, to get through those interminable hours before the work day ends, to think ahead about which bus to take and how long the travel time will be, and to hope against hope that there won’t be too many people travelling along with me, knowing it’s a wasted hope, but willing to brave it anyway, just to be with the ones I love. To know that for these unfortunate agents, that anticipation, that excitement, that innocent joy, was wiped away in an instant by unimaginable horror, unable to reach out to anyone else in the outside world having no access to their phones (it’s common practice in a call centre for agents to leave their phones in their locker, to avoid disrupting the reception), is heartbreaking. One can only imagine the devastation that their loved ones are going through.

The questions will likely come later – why didn’t the fire alarms go off in time? Why didn’t the sprinkler system work*? For such an enclosed space, shouldn’t they have made sure the two fire escapes wouldn’t be impassable? Did they hold fire drills? Were there no emergency extinguishers?

This is not the happiest of Christmas posts, or the thing to get us all in the jubilant mood. It’s a sobering reminder that what is given can be taken away just as easily. It’s a little nudge to be thankful for being alive, because each day is a gift, which is why it’s called the present. (Corny, trite and overused to death, but it doesn’t make it any less true, does it?). So to you and yours, I wish a very Merry Christmas – with the hope that you get to spend time with the ones who love you with all the fierceness that you have in your soul for them. At the end of the day, all manner of material things bedamned, time is the most precious gift of all.

* Facebook feed post, as yet unsubstantiated by actual reports/interviews

Christmas YouTube K-hole

Apparently Jose Mari Chan doesn’t have a video for Christmas in our Hearts, which is a shame because that song dominates the Philippine airwaves the way Bing Crosby does on this side of the Atlantic. I know that song inside and out, and whenever they play it in September, you know the most wonderful time of the year is just around the bend.

Since I couldn’t put up a Jose Mari Chan video that wasn’t just random pictures cobbled together like a well-made videoke segment, here in no particular order are three music videos that I turn to come Yuletide. Hope they get you in the mood!

98 Degrees  – This Gift

Fake snow? Teddy bears? Handsome, clean-cut, corn-fed troubadours? I’m all in! This video gave me a weak spot for guys in cable-knit sweaters singing about giving gifts. This criminally overlooked Christmas song will forever and always be at the top of my list for the Christmas season. You guys can have Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber, I will take my cheesy, well-meaning boyband and hold it close to my heart. This Gift never fails to delight, even if it could use a little less Nick Lachey.

Troy & Abed – Christmas Infiltration (Community Rap)

Troy and Abed doing Chriiistmaaas! In an episode that melds the purity of Christmas with the underlying evil of the glee club (showrunner Dan Harmon wasn’t shy about how much he hated Glee), Christmas Infiltration is a standout and instantly became one of my favourite songs about Christmas. It was a wrench deciding between this, Baby Boomer Santa and Happy Birthday Jesus. I can’t help it. Troy and Abed always win out in the end. Actually, this whole episode wins out in the end. Community always aced their holiday episodes and Regional Holiday Music was no different. It’s Christmas viewed through the twisted lens of a music lover who wants to mean well but somehow can’t seem to find the strength to make the devil on his shoulder go away. It’s hilarious, it’s irreverent, it’s perfect.

Billy Mack – Christmas is All Around

Forever tardy to the party, I discovered Love, Actually a year ago on Netflix, while using some holiday downtime to do movie research for a project I was working on. It turned out to be a choice I thank the fates I made because  it has Bill Nighy as an aging rockstar with all the sleazy moves, Hugh Grant as an endearingly floppy-haired Prime Minister who has no idea he’s cute, Alan Rickman being Alan Rickman, a pre-Taken Liam Neeson as a grieving widower,  Andrew Lincoln before he moved to Atlanta to fight zombies and Colin Firth with a typewriter! I don’t give a rat’s arse what anyone says, Love Actually is an awesome holiday movie. It can’t be anything but, not with such a charming all-star cast and a truly hilarious script filled with that dry Brit humour we all know and love. Here, Billy Mack remakes his signature song into a wannabe Christmas staple, but even he knows it’s a “festering turd of a record.” I’m making a tradition out of watching Love, Actually every Christmas. I haven’t laughed as hard at a British ensemble movie since Ang Lee’s Four Weddings and a Funeral.

How my Grandma helped me jumpstart Christmas

How my Grandma helped me jumpstart Christmas

I’ve finally gotten over my mental work/home torpor and kicked myself into high gear. When you’re in logistics, sometimes holidays stop having meaning beyond having to go through a bajillion things that Costco and Co need to keep consumers happy. Santa must have presents! Santa must have things! Santa needs the help of giant shipping containers filled with candy and random crap!

It starts with Halloween, of course. All that candy has to come from somewhere. And then Christmas, which bleeds into Valentine’s Day and then Easter and St. Patrick’s Day and somewhere along the lines I stopped seeing the meaning behind these days because all it meant to me was work. I couldn’t even get in the holiday frame of mind anymore, because come December, the powers that be (hi, Hershey’s!) are already working out what to ship for Valentine’s Day. That’s how far ahead they plan. It’s scary.

(Also, the amount of sweets people consume is staggering. No wonder diabetes is an industry.)

Last year, I trimmed the tree the day before Christmas. The year before that, we ended up in Dollarama because we were too lazy to haul everything out from storage. We should’ve done storage. We went a few days before Christmas eve and the shelves were bare. It was a Christmas of hastily cobbled together shit, featuring a truly sad plastic tablecloth that featured snowflakes and snowmen.*) This Christmas feels like more of the same, except we actually got the stuff out of storage, but now everything’s in disarray and my living room looks like a half-hearted Christmas explosion that started with a bang and ended with a whimper. There’s tinsel gathering dust in a corner.

I’ve even gotten to the point where I didn’t feel like sending out my usual Christmas cards. It’s an annual custom I started when I moved here, and I’ve been pretty faithful to it every year. But for the life of me I can’t remember if I sent anything out last year (damn you, logistics) and this year I had decided not to actually do it. Until I got a note from my Grandma for my birthday – she sent it late November, and I got it two days ago – and realized how meaningful things are when one actually takes the time.

Communication is cheap these days. A quick Happy Birthday on social media, a few sentences sent by e-mail. None of these compare to seeing my Grandma’s squiggly handwriting, and knowing that for a few moments on a particular day in November, I was all that she thought about, and took the time for. That means something.

So, a year without sending out Christmas cards? Preposterous! What’s Christmas for if not to send glittery notes with love and care to family and friends? I’ve just written my Grandma a long letter that I hope will not bore her to tears and now I’m off to see what I can score by way of Christmas cards (can’t be redundant, Christmas cards aren’t like Catherine Middleton’s favourite coats), and jumpstart the Christmas season. I am very firmly going to buy cards that say MERRY CHRISTMAS, and not that silly, politically correct, “Happy Holidays” bullshit. It’s freaking Christmas. If I find something that says MERRY F*CKING CHRISTMAS, all the better. Post office, here I come!


* Cobbled together decor, but truly awesome dinners.  I’m not big on decorating the space, but I will skimp on nothing when it comes to a Christmas/New Year’s Eve dinner. Nothing. Turkeys will cry.