Learning from Christmas Eve

Every year on December 24, my parents let my siblings and I select a present from under the Christmas tree in our living room, and open it after dinner. It was a sneak preview, a teaser – a little taste of the things to come on Christmas Day itself. And we as kids relished it. 

Christmas Eve has always been the perfect picture of anticipation to me. The sleepless excitement… the chance to celebrate the potential gift of giving, and of being thankful. It was for something I look forward all year for.

But as I grew older, I slowly realised that many people don’t seem to share this same hopefulness. I am obviously only one person with my own set of experiences and feelings, but as I talk to others, many of them share a general feeling of frustration and distrust towards this day that seem to promise to fill the emptiness they’ve felt all year long.

To them, Christmas is a reminder of the inevitable disappointment of life. To some, the answer to the question, “Did you get everything you wanted?” is, an unfortunate no. 

Why can’t we be happy? Why can’t we be satisfied? Why this constant desire for more? Will we ever be content with what we have, the secret Santa gifts, and the toys under the tree?

Maybe the answer lies in the night before the big day.

Having a different Christmas Eve attitude 

When I was taking my World Cultures module in university, I was interested in understanding how popular holidays are celebrated around the world. One fascinating thing I learnt was that Christmas is important in the Spanish culture, but not celebrated the same way as in Singapore. 

In Spain, families will get together on Christmas Eve (called La Nochebuena or The Good Night) and have a church service. The night isn’t about gift-giving; it’s about feasting and family, gratitude and commemoration. It’s not about ‘me’, but about ‘we’. It’s about being together and not getting things from each other.

Contrast this to how we spend Christmas Eve in Singapore. It’s usually a mad last-minute rush to buy the presents we forgot. To make sure that our gifts are deemed by our friends as cool and not lame. It’s hoping that our friends got us what we wanted on our Christmas list of things.

This was an epiphany to me. That our culture can avoid the pressure placed on a day typically about spending money, and refocus on slowing down. Instead of frantically rushing around or freaking out over Christmas. We can simply enjoy the time we have together with loved ones.

So today, as Christmas Day is just 2 days away, I hope that we can see how the magic of Christmas is not about it being an event, but a process. Where we can be thankful for a chance to experience the good things: spending time with family and friends, taking a break before school starts again, reflecting on who you want to be in 2017. 

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