How to get back the real Christmas from the Grinch?

Christmas in Dubai has grown from minimal into huge festive affairs. Santa Claus, improvised snow parks and snowman, giant gingerbread houses, record-breaking Christmas trees, and high-end Christmas night markets – all these western traditions are all over town. Obviously, Christmas is commercially celebrated in this part of the world. None of them though depicts its real meaning. It is understandable because UAE is an Islamic nation. Nevertheless, we are blessed to be able to practice our faith and really commemorate Christmas in its real essence.

(Read: Filipinos in UAE attend Simbang Gabi)

This year, I’ll be home for Christmas. It’s the first time in 10 years for me to celebrate the season in the Philippines. As the song says, “May tatalo pa ba sa Pasko sa ‘Pinas?” (No other nation can beat Christmas in the Philippines). It’ll be more fun, entertaining, sentimental and meaningful, I thought.

Facades are decorated with fancy lights, lanterns and Santa Claus. Busy shoppers are rushing and squeezing into the malls. Children singing carols “for a living.” Lavish Christmas parties at bars and clubs. Families planning reunions and big noche buena dinners. Exchange gifts. Wish lists. Price tags.

It’s beginning to look a lot like fiesta!

Parents prepping up the kids to reconnect with their ninongs and ninangs (godparents). One time in the lift, one mom was teaching her son how to properly ‘kiss the hand’ (bless) of their ninang so the godparent would be delighted to give the son a nice gift or cash.

So this is Christmas?

These preoccupations leave us no time to reflect and live by the real purpose of Christmas.

It seems like the yuletide is the season to do all good things in the world. You don’t have to wait for Christmas to forgive or ask forgiveness. You don’t have to give love only on Christmas day. You give not because it’s the season of giving. You give because your heart wants to do so. Doing good should be all-year long.

For many Filipinos working abroad, the holiday is a time to reunite. If not given the chance to go home, they become emotionally stressed and feel bad they can’t be with their families on Christmas eve.

For some, the Christmas countdown brings pressure and financial stress.

Stop and listen. Look within, and discover if we are truly Christmas-ready. We are excited to receive gifts, but are we excited to receive Him?

Salvation is the universal message of Christmas. Beyond the nativity, we must reflect on His life.  Jesus saves us from something,for something and by something. To understand that, we must equip ourselves with wisdom.

My idea of a perfect Christmas is to refocus. That’s R.E.F.O.C.U.S.

R - Renew your faith

In 1-5, how deep is your faith? Being kind is not enough. Faith that does nothing is worth nothing. Your faith defines your spiritual foundation, your strength, your mindset. Faith enables you to understand why things are happening or not happening to you. "According to your faith, it will be done to you." (Matthew 9:29)

A strong faith makes one joyful in whatever circumstances he may be in. JOY to the world indeed, the Lord has come.

The bible says, "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." (r)

E - Experience God

Every believer prays, but not everyone understands how prayer works, and what it means to experience God. God does not want us to just “study” His words or pray in a monologue or recital. God wants us to develop a personal relationship with Him and to listen to Him. He wants us to dedicate an exclusive time with Him so we could hear Him talking to us as well.

To experience God means to give him all the firsts in our lives. First hour of the day, first part of our earnings, first focus of our mindset, etc. because everything we have comes from God and our faith will comfort us that God will always provide.  It's not enough that we believe, it's a must that we connect with Him.

The bible says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me." (e)

F - Find your purpose

If you still don’t know why on earth are you here for, it is time to find out so. Each of us have a unique purpose why we exist. We are planned, formed, created, shaped and made for a mission for our Creator.

Discovering your purpose sparks your relationship with God. He works for the good of those who love him, those who have been called according to his purpose.

The bible says, "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." (f)

O - Obey your spiritual thirst

After a long tiring run, a runner stops to drink, to refuel. If you run a busy lifestyle, you have a tendency to grow tired and weary. Life may get hard on you if you continue living with all the stress. you become drained - that's spiritual thirst. Stop and quench your thirst and renew your strength with His comforting words. Make it a habit to run with Him so there's no stopping despite of the obstacles along the way.

In Isaiah it says, "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;  they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint." (o)

C - Campaign up

No one grows spiritually alone. Either you find a spiritual partner or be with groups that aim to grow spiritually by doing various campaigns.

There are many Christian groups that does excellent campaigns like CCF and Victory church in Dubai. You can also join Saddleback online to participate in their various campaigns in understanding God's love and mercy, peace, forgiveness and more.

You can even do a personal campaign starting with reading books, listening to podcasts and Youtube videos. Send me a message if you want to get started and we'll team up.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." - Proverbs 27:17

In these campaigns you won't just study His words. You will and you should develop a personal relationship with Him.

It is important to be informed so we could prevent being deceived by false teaching. The bible says, "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (c)

U - Undo some traditions

Don’t be a traditional faithful. Christmas is full of traditions - simbang gabi, noche buena, kris kringles, Santa Claus, parties and more. Keep it, but save some space for acts of faith.

Your prayers won't be answered instantly upon completing a traditional novena. God's promise of answers to our prayers is within the premise of a deep faith and humble and righteous desires. An intimate relationship with Him will make you realize He can give you far more than you could ask for or imagine.

Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world, from September to December – most often, the long period is to prepare for the physical and material decorations. Those who truly know the meaning of Christmas prepare in more profound way of fasting and praying.

Many Christian groups create weekly and monthly assemblies and they talk about transformation to prepare for Christmas. Demand more activities from your group that aims to strengthen faith and wisdom rather than mandatory dance presentations, costumes or childish parlor games.

The bible says not to conform to the standards of this world, but be transformed with the renewing of our minds. (u)

S - Stick with God, not the world

Many people these days are unconsciously drifting away because they are too busy coping up with trends in technology, social media and vanity. People in the olden days have more time to nourish their spirituality because these distractions do not exist then.

These days, people chase the latest gadgets and fashion statements to be ‘in.’ Everyone wants to be in the loop about their idols. They spend more time and money to look good and feel good for the wrong reasons through the wrong ways.

The bible says Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in Him and Him in us, we will bear much fruit; apart from Him we can do nothing. (s)

Christmas is the most evident season of all when everyone’s spending quite significant time thinking what to give to family and friends.

It’s not about the person you give a gift to. We spend too much time thinking what our friends might like, what will make them happy to receive. We think too much about people.

Worse, we care more of what friends would say about us with the kind of present we’ll give them. So wrong.

Christmas is not even about exchanging gifts. The three wise men did not give each other gifts. They searched for the newborn and gave offerings to Jesus. It’s not about the presents. It’s about His presence.

Merry Christmas from the Gonzagas - Bulacan, Philippines

Top up the tradition with purpose and passion.

I’m not saying to stop these traditions. Traditions are fun. I will do them again and again. Who don't want bibingka and puto bumbong after all. I will always appreciate a good theatrical performance. It only goes wrong if we allow ourselves to neglect the real reason of the season.

If we could give part of our lives to do the traditional practices, surely we could allot time for activities that nurture our spiritual relationship with God.

Our Filipino Christmas traditions could be the happiest in the world. But we could do more to make that happiness transform into joy – that whether you’re well-off or not on Christmas, the joy within will keep you content and happy.

It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus Christ. Dapat MAS-CHRIST-like tayo!

As my wife Raquel said, your transformed self is the best Christmas present you could give to Him.

A blessed merry Christmas to you!


The messages I referenced above, can be found in the following bible verses:

(r) - Hebrews 1:11
(e) - Psalm 23:4
(f) - Proverbs 19:21
(o) - Isaiah 40:29-31
(c) - 1 John 4:1
(u) - Romans 12:2
(s) - John 15:5


Excuse me for the title.

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  1. Greetings to your family when you get home this season.