Embracing Humanity



WHENEVER Christmas time comes, newspapers are abound with preachy editorials lamenting that the true meaning of Christmas seems to have been forgotten. Capitalists are usually vilified for poisoning our minds with the gospel of commercialism. Even Santa Claus gets his share of flak.

But what is the true meaning of Christmas? And who dictates what it should be?

To a child, Christmas means having new toys; to a student, it means a long respite from the pressures of school; to an employee, bonuses; to the child of an OFW, missing a loved one; to a lover in despair, cold nights made even colder by the low temperature in December; and, to a security guard on duty, just another day at work. The list goes ad infinitum.

While Christmas is mainly a Christian event, it is an occasion that transcends the bounds of religion. It is humanity at large that we celebrate, the same humanity that Christ embraced in the lowly manger in Bethlehem and, later on, in the cross at Golgotha. How is it to be human? How is it to be not only in December, but at any given time? Only when Christmas has permeated our daily lives, be it in March, June, or September, have we experienced it at all.

Only when we have befriended love, joy, compassion, and also sorrow, anxiety, and suffering—and other emotions that characterize our existence have we unwrapped the present of all presents.

And only when we have gotten to terms with the reality that no two persons are exactly alike can we achieve the oft-spoken-but-perennially-elusive world peace.

To many, Christmas is about giving and receiving. But happier are those who appreciate what is already there, and which cannot be taken away—the chance to be human. To celebrate Christmas as an occasion is to be occasionally human.

Finally, an honest-to-goodness night market

THE LAOAG CITY NIGHT MARKET IS A BEAUTY TO BEHOLD. Anyone who has a clear pair of eyes and who has entered the city via the Laoag Padsan Bridge on a Wednesday or Friday night would attest to this. Well-lighted and symmetrically arranged, white tents flashing the trademark “sunshine city” logo seem like fairies welcoming you to newfound paradise.

Located at the sunset boulevard right across city hall and below the four-lane Padsan Bridge, Laoag’s is one of only two night markets that I take my hats off to, the other being the Marikina Night Market, which, incidentally, is also set up in the city’s riverbanks-cum-park.

It took a long journey before the night market finally found home. It started in 2002 in downtown Bonifacio Street, which was crowded and suffocating. On account of issues legal, it was later transferred at the vicinity of the city public market. Plagued by garbage problems and cold public response, everybody thought the night market had (almost) died.

But leave it to Mayor Michael Farinas and her tourism-genius-of-a-wife Chevylle to pull a magical string. They transformed, in the words of fellow writer Cristina Arzadon, “what was formerly a dark and decaying section of the Padsan river dike to a well-lighted boulevard complete with shaded structures for those spending time gazing at the majestic view of the Laoag bridge at night”. This now is home to the night market.

The existence of places like these where you can buy wallet-friendly commodities is a welcome respite for consumers like me who are already battered heavily by the global economic crunch. From clothes to house ware to fashion accessories, toys, trinkets, coloring books and more, the night market offers dirt-cheap joys.

Transcending the material, it is also heartwarming to see families, friends, and lovers celebrate the joys of togetherness while enjoying the scene. Cheerful Smiles. Friendly Embraces. Holding hands. Locked arms. The night market is certainly not just a market at night.

While there, don’t miss Gina’s Goto, atbp., a real gustatory delight. Always served hot, Gina’s goto is a mouth-watering antithesis to the December breeze. Their vegetarian pansit, matched with pickled kangkong stalks, is also a certified hit not only to our Muslim brethren, but to anyone who craves for something tasty, sans the guilt.

I was tempted to write about the night market in the middle of this year but thought to give it some time, given Filipinos’ ningas cogon attitude. I wanted to wait and see whether this beauty does not fade faster than I can say “Merry Christmas”.

Guess what? The night market is even more robust than when it reopened five months ago. With police and security personnel quietly looking after peace and order, and with both vendors and buyers maintaining the cleanliness that Laoag is so well-known for, the promise of paradise is kept.