Once again, the ‘-ber’ months stepped in and the festive mood for many Filipinos. The so-called Yuletide Season sound utopic – a time to celebrate the remaining days of the year. Right after the first week of November, houses are fully illuminated with playful lights. (Indeed Pinoy Pasko is the longest in the world!) Hoisted up zigzagging the main alleys of Puerto Princesa especially are the colorful buntings signaling the city into the annual fiesta mode. Pista na Pasko pa! – the city slogan during my late teen years – was what my Cebuano boyhood pal referred to as Pis-kot na! (In english – Pest time !). It’s that time of year when expenses skyrocket. Almost every commodity turns so pricey! There’s food galore and shopping spree sales in almost every mall around the city. The crazy hype.
Europe also went alongside the same hype ‘trend’. (It wasn’t always the case). Around mid-November in Vienna, small wooden ‘Weinachtsmarktl’ or X’mas market huts are erected. Amusingly, it was a Muslim businessman who organized the famous Vienna City Hall X’mas Markt a few years back. (Indeed Christmas is business and profit-making.)
From sweet gingerbreads to a sip of the ‘Punch’ drink one can experience the local traditions of the season – however expensive they are.
During this dear season, one posh Viennese street is strung with huge dangling chandeliers to the awe of allured tourists. The whole city is lit up with a display of fanciful glitz and glitter. The ice skating rink vis-a-vis the City Hall is then opened for the paying public. For many, it is a scenic Winter Wonderland.
In higher elevations, snow can already be seen capping not only the ‘bergs’ but blanketing the entire landscape. The last of the four seasons in the northern hemisphere, however, brings gray, foggy, null or negative temperatures.
One of the worst winters in Austria occurred in 2005, (which was my first) plummeted temperatures down to minus 25 degrees Celsius! I couldn’t feel my ear or nose anymore. They were very numb. Blizzards during the daytime. Stinging freezing winds permeate through thick jackets. Snow rose to over a meter high. Along with rooftop edges, icicles were frigidly hanging in an array. The entire house was boreal. I had to gather firewood to heat up the chimney (It’s no fun doing it every day). I was manually shoveling snow every morning while my other neighbors were already using their tractors and snow machines. It was grim.
Winter takes me down most of the time. My spirit is at its lowest. Most days are just depressing cold. Without the sun, we humans tend to develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Accordingly, being SAD is twice as common for the female genders than males. Symptoms of SAD can be extreme: mood swings, anxiety, sleep problems, or even suicidal thoughts. Research even shows that Vitamin D deficiencies in men caused by not enough sunlight make twice as likely to develop heart disease. The point is – we humans need the sun. We need warmth.
Though the ritzy districts of Vienna are decorated annually with street chandeliers and astronomically expensive lighting so to enlighten the heavy dark mood – I never liked Wintertime when days run short and dimness begin as early as three in the afternoon. The gloominess engulfs me morbidly…slowly asphyxiating. Winter presents itself like Death – it creeps in and hits real hard.
Death knocked the first time during my early childhood. My younger brother suddenly turned blue and stopped breathing. His was a silent death.
A few years after, my older brother drowned tragically together with his best friend. Two families were left strangled with disdain and chill felt which lasted for decades.
I too felt the aftershock as the image of the pale lifeless corpse wrapped in a fisher’s net carried by our sympathizing neighbors haunted my nights. That tragic moment answered my mother’s plea on the whereabouts of her missing child. We tried to forget my brother. To hide the acrid cold pain. But it was very hard. He was buried beside an old acacia tree that spread its canopy to the heavens reminding us to be prayerful.
As soon as I turned twelve, my grandmother died of old age. We were all summoned to my uncle’s house where her remains, laid inside a coffin for two weeks. Nights were busy with my older cousins leading card gambling sprees. My father was spiteful of the whole matter. The evening scenes were full of aggravated discussions between my Tatay and some other relations on whose rights were to be observed during burial. That Death caused a snowball of family squabbles.
My uncle’s death was the most excruciating for me. It was the first cancer-related case in the family. I cried so hard. It was a blizzard that sharply pierced through me like the biting icy wind.
Four o’clock of a cold winter February day almost four years ago in Vienna I read the shocking message that my father had a freak accident on a part of the Palawan Northern National Highway. He died on the spot.
The shock came a little later. I lost all strength. I could not stand up. Flashbacks came rushing. And it all drained me. The fun and wonderful memories I shared with my Tatay condensed my emotions to severe stress.
I couldn’t fly to attend his funeral and burial in Palawan. I left it all matters to other family members. Another Frost crept in.
February last year of the same date and around the same time my father died, my older sister lost her battle to cancer. She struggled so much already and she finally rested. The family felt the havoc of Death and the repercussions with it remained to this day.
Death is much like Winter – the sun in our lives disappear for a while. We are left cold, deprived of life. Like trees, we lose our greenery. We lose reason or even sanity. Like bodies of water which turn solid – our psyche turn numb. We are frozen to an iceberg of emotions. Death is or was never part of the humankind. Our DNA does not recognize it at all.
Another year is almost at an end and another Winter has just begun. Although it may appear that we spire up sunless, Faith and Hope still linger behind those depressive clouds, behind those gray and dreadful days. And we go on living. We continue on the expectation that Spring and Summer would smile upon us one day to life renewed. And we remain positive all throughout.
Percy B. Shelley, wrote of this hope quintessentially, “If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?”