Exploring the peculiarities of the hallowed day we call Christmas

The Christmas truce of 1914 supposedly transpired this way: British soldiers in their trenches would be greeted by enemy Germans calling out “Merry Christmas,” before exposing themselves, unarmed. There are reports of soldiers exchanging gifts — cigarettes, buttons, plum pudding — and an impromptu football match held on No Man’s Land, the space between two opposing enemy lines. One can imagine a private wondering if this first world war, and the wars that might come after, could be replaced with a friendly kickabout.

A miracle is typically described as a divine act that goes against the laws of nature. Many continue to debate what constitutes a violation of the ordered world, so the term “Christmas miracle,” which carries a sort of seasonal exclusivity, is more peculiar. As if there is something about the weeks that lead to Dec. 25 that further pronounces our capacity for goodness.

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In a rush to get some documents certified, I managed to find, despite the odds, a notary public open on a Sunday. The lawyer in charge — let’s call him Gerard — was dressed in a plaid polo and khakis, and the walls in the second floor of his small office were lined with plastic wreath leaves. It was a manuscript I asked him to certify, and when I told him I was a writer, he printed out a few pages from a personal blog he kept which was filled with essays regarding his support for Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump, and loving anecdotes about his family. He wanted comments. I looked at the printouts, then his shelves, which were filled to capacity with books on the law. I told him it was cool that he had a place for his writing, and that I was happy his office was open on a Sunday. I would eventually resolve to email him, a few days after the Nov. 30 rally.

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Art by Ina Jacobe

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The film Tokyo Godfathers follows Gin, Hana, and Miyuki, three homeless people who, upon finding an abandoned baby while scavenging for food on Christmas Eve, navigate the city in a desperate search for the infant’s parents. The film deals with themes of, as video essayist Pause and Select puts it, coincidence and providence, and the thin line between the two. As Hana puts it, observing a long line assembling into a nearby temple: “God must be busy at this time of year.” One type of divine miracle is the incorruptible corpse: in which the body of a holy or saintly individual refuses to de compose. Take for example the body of Mary of Jesus de Leon y Delgado who, known for her stigmata and feats of levitation, is placed on display behind glass at the Monastery of St. Catherine of Siena every anniversary of her death. The intuitive understanding is, there is a good soul keeping what is of the world from falling apart. Personally though, considering the persistence of a certain political family, I’ve had enough of corpses that don’t know when to quit.

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To me, “Christmas miracle” describes a singular event, a supernatural occurrence that just happens to transpire over the holidays. The term “Christmas spirit” is more of a sustained emotion, a state of grace, that envelopes you at least until the family reunions conclude. The Christmas spirit takes hold a little differently for everyone. For some, it’s at the first sight of a parol. For others, when the FM radio deejays put Mariah Carey back into their playlists. For others, it’s the sudden realization that no particular bad news has been showing up on one’s Facebook feed for a while now. It is becoming harder to tell now the difference between the law of nature and the things that violate it.

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What common knowledge won’t tell you, what perhaps your history teachers won’t tell you, is that the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914 didn’t pacify everyone. Threats of disciplinary action from higher ranking officers prevented total ceasefire along the Western Front, and hostilities continued. Even those who participated in the ceasefire, in the football matches, went back to business eventually.

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It was Gerard who emailed me first, though. Speaking as a former anti-Marcos activist, what he told me was, “You have to nurture the idealism of the youth in you.” He didn’t want to bother changing my mind, encouraging me instead to nurture my convictions. I don’t hear these kinds of narratives anywhere else. I don’t know what it means, and I haven’t figured out yet what to say to him. But he asked me to just call him Tito Jerry, so that’s what I’ll call him the next time I need something notarized. I guess he was feeling the Christmas spirit. I hope you’re doing well, Tito Jerry. Merry Christmas. Peace.

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