Noche Buena: How to live it up at a time like this

Published December 18, 2021, 12:58 PM

by Pao Vergara

SIMPLENG HANDAAN The essence of Christmas is being together and celebrating new life (Rhes Victorio)

Given the times we live in, an economy in recession, a future that’s ever uncertain, a virus that’s finishing the alphabet, it might be impractical or downright insulting to even consider pursuing luxury.

“Check your privilege,” the young and woke will tell you, and rightfully, agreeably so. Even Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto, when pressed by a rival for something along the lines of “removing the Christmas spirit” for not decorating the city with the usual embellishments, simply said that there were more pressing concerns, all as residents came to his defense posting about the Noche Buena packages they had received.

And yet luxury lifestyle continues to be an aspiration. Haute jewelry, cuisine, travel, experiences, and the channels that feed that aspiration toward these thunder on despite all the uncertainty around.

Elite. Luxury. Rich. Words that were once aspirational in decades past are now seen with wariness, condescension, and even dismissal by a majority whose salaries are still stuck in 1990.

There was a time religious puritanism shunned luxury, and this was followed by the promise of industrial secularization and wealth and comfort for more, which saw the above as old-fashioned. Now, a different social consciousness is permeating—It’s critical of excess, doubtful of trickle-down economics, but led more by social scientists, bloggers, and pundits than by clergy.

Is there still space for luxury? Can your space be luxurious? Maybe luxury won’t disappear, but maybe we can rethink and redefine it.

Luxury is about more, it is about decadence, but that more, that decadence, isn’t necessarily bling, it isn’t necessarily about being crazy, filthy rich. Perhaps it’s about that effort to be extra, that effort to dazzle with what’s available, that effort to make not just a campfire but a lightshow with the kindle on-hand.

Luxury isn’t exclusively based on economic class, although, true to its nature, only a few attain it. But this this time, it’s dependent on effort, not birthright. Luxury is reached by those brave enough to be creative, to make more with what little is there.

Jesus turning water into wine

It’s exclusive to those who, despite whatever hardships, still choose to celebrate life. Luxury is creativity. In the absence of Moet, it’s milk tea built from scratch. In the absence Cebu spring pig lechon, it’s Pinoy samgyeop put together from the palengke. It’s celebrating with who’s there while grieving for those who aren’t.
It’s going the extra mile to add flavor within one’s means. This kind of luxury can be captured in the Filipino word ginhawa, which evokes coziness, safety, a space in which to relax and enjoy oneself. You’re not just surviving, you’re thriving. Our tribal ancestors chose their leaders not based on who had the most resources, but who brought the most ginhawa to the community. As the Baguio heritage museum puts it, it was elitism, but consensual elitism.

Elite. Luxury. Rich. Words that were once aspirational in decades past are now seen with wariness, condescension, and even dismissal by a majority whose salaries are still stuck in 1990.

The years 2020 and 2021 have been stressful enough for us collectively. This year looks to be a pivotal time for the nation. We may have been diligent in washing our hands and wearing masks, but too much soap causes dryness and “behind the mask,” TWICE sings, “I wonder if you’re smiling?”

Already, The New York Times has reported the rising incidence of COVID-related anxiety and depression, but we know that already. As the economy reopens and people tentatively come together, each of us is (re)discovering what it means to be among others, with all the hiccups that may entail.

Are we to shame people or, worse, ourselves for trying to add spice, color, and flavor to life?
So! Luxury. Yeah. That word. That experience. You’ve been fighting hard, and you’ve been fighting good, and you’ve been fighting the good fight.

So treat yourself. Treat those you love. Savor that Noche Buena, even if the queso de bola is improvised. You don’t just deserve it. You’ve earned it. Even Jesus turned water into wine.