UNLIKE Scrooge of Charles Dickens’s “Christmas Carol,” we should not need ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to jolt us into celebrating this season, even with social distancing.

Yes, the Christmas rules apply regardless of the GDP levels going down.

It’s the special cuisine that defines Christmas, like the turkey in some other celebrations. Still, food consumption is bound to go down with the lack of redundancy from attending several Christmas parties in the month of December, sometimes on the same day. With the ban on in-person gatherings of over five persons (expected to be breached with caroling instead of birthday singing), sitting around a table with frequent buffet visits is to be skipped this year.

Office parties have been banned, a practical excuse for cost-cutting. There are cases, however, of using restaurants up to their allowed capacity to hold socially distanced parties. Nobody said anything about the patrons not knowing each other when they enter the premises allowed to seat up to 50-60% capacity.

Certain food items mark this time of the year.

Edam cheese which in other countries — like the Netherlands which makes it — does not always come in a red ball of inedible but non-toxic wax. This item makes a prominent appearance for the season in the gift grocery basket and the dining table. (Now, not all red-balled cheeses are edam.) Softer cheeses, like Camembert or brie are not as photogenic. They blend with the napkins.

Food selection defies all prescribed dietary rules and focus on high carbohydrates (pasta, paella), high sugar (leche flan, food for the gods), fatty (oxtail in peanut sauce, callos, lechon), salty (ham, cheese), and irresistible (all the above). The deleterious effects on the aorta and vena cava of the food intake are psychologically suspended. Even this list of forbidden pleasures will be trimmed down with fewer mouths around the table.

The guest lists for the seasonal meals are fixed and may be added to, but not subtracted from. Anyway, the invitations will be virtual with an agreed-upon time. It’s strictly consuming your own food and wine, no sharing required.

Gift-giving is another cultural requirement for the season.

Food again makes its appearance. It is considered the most ideal gift for passing on to others since it has an expiry date and is often too much to consume in the narrow time window when it comes in a flood, delivered by motorcycle messengers. (Though this time, the food may not come at all.)

Gift-giving does not get affected by the rules of the new normal. Though this will be lessened. Some companies have sent out e-mails to their suppliers to forego gift-giving to their executives (unless you insist and send it to their homes) and donate the intended budget for relief work instead. (The sum of P2 million has been donated to the typhoon victims in your name — please don’t check.)

Still, the gift list for this particular year is apt to be shorter with lost jobs, closed companies, and the sober spirit for the season. Will a vaccine trial certificate make a good gift? (You have been designated in the trial group as the recipient of the placebo treatment.)

It seems necessary to believe that gifts are bought with an intended recipient in mind — that when one receives a gift, she is convinced she is its originally intended recipient. It is breaking unwritten social rules to pass on as original a gift one has received for herself. Still, the recycler is forgiven if the gift, even if second-hand, is nonetheless useful to the second recipient, whether it was as useful to the first. (I already have a Birkin Bag.) Cash, which is fungible, is an example of a recyclable gift with no onus attached, but it cannot be in very shiny coins — unless of the rare variety measured in ounces. An expensive watch is another.

Certain items cannot be recycled. These include monogrammed shirts (unless the intended recipient has the same initials), dusty books, used clothes, oil portraits (unless the recipient is a twin of the same sex), and shoes.

Food and gifts (whether original or recycled) characterize the season. Sometimes, we forget that both forms of sharing are meant to be expressions of affection. In the effort to make good social impressions, this celebratory message of love and peace can be lost.

In the new normal, Christmas is still a season of love… from a distance.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda