When the government’s COVID-19 restrictions began in March, few of us expected that the disease would last the way it has. We had read about plagues like the bubonic plague that killed a third of the world population, mostly in Europe, in 1350. There was the cholera pandemic that originated in Russia spread to Africa, Asia, and America, and killed a million people in 1817.
In the 20th century, an influenza epidemic killed 50 million worldwide in Europe, the United States, and Asia in 1915. Reports of the flu outbreak in Madrid by wire services led to it being called “Spanish flu.” What came to be known as Asian flu started in Hong Kong in 1957, spread to China, the US, then Europe, followed by a second wave. A vaccine effectively contained it in 1958 after it had killed about 1.1 million people globally.
More recently, we had the HIV-AIDS epidemic of 1981, first observed in American gay communities, then spreading around the world, killing 3 million so far and a cure is yet to be found. Then in the new 21st century, we had the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, followed by H1N1, Ebola, and Zika which were quickly brought under control.
And now, we have COVID-19. We had hoped it would not last long, like SARS, H1N1, and Ebola, but we have been under various levels of restrictions since March and very likely, Metro Manila will continue to remain under some form of restriction the rest of this year.
Today is November 25. In previous years, this would be a red-letter-day on our calendar — one month to go before Christmas Day. We would be filling our malls and markets, buying Christmas gifts and holiday decorations for our homes and preparing for Christmas and New Year’s Eve feasts for the family and friends.
We are glad to note that many of our local governments and private enterprises are determined to carry on with their traditional holiday activities, installing Christmas lanterns along city streets and setting up big Christmas trees with the brightest of lights and decorations.
In the provinces, Tarlac has proceeded with the 13th year of its Belenismo competition, with each town and many private organizations setting up Nativity Scenes in a province-wide competition. San Fernando City in Pampanga has its annual giant lantern competition, although the entries are not as big and expensive as they used to be.
This is truly a different year for us because of the pandemic. But it is no reason to set aside our celebration of Christmas. It may be less exuberant, less colorful, less exciting, less merry because of the pandemic, but it should be no less meaningful, no less heartfelt, no less holy as a celebration of the birth of Christ our Savior.