The exchanged gifts

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Long-time megapolis dwellers will surely agree with me: Those were the days when the now obsolete time measure exists in the Metro—a time span of three hours in the morning and another three hours in the afternoon creeping toward the evening. It was ironically called the rush hour (singular), when everyone on the road seemed to be in a rush, yet the laws of traffic physics wouldn’t permit them to move beyond 20 kph. Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker milked millions of dollars from several Hollywood flicks of the same title. But, sadly, the rush hour no longer exists.

The immovable traffic “rush” now transpires over just a shade less than a whole day, seven days a week, now compounded by the annual Christmas frenzy. There has been no valid scientific explanation or reason coming from the MMDA for this burgeoning traffic mess: the volume of vehicles swells during this season and becomes less after? Discpline (or what remains thereof) further deteriorates during the -ber months? People just want to randomly park their cars on the roads, with engines still running?

Vehicles on the provincial periphery converge at urban centers? Mall operators offer free parking? Or, farfetched as it may seem, everyone (including me) is in for a mad dash to satisfy the rule, the golden Filipino tradition apart from bayanihan, the epitome of the virtue of sharing and generosity—one that separates us, Homo sapiens sapiens from, say, homo habilis: the exchange gift.

I have to satisfy three Christmas gift exchanges this season. One for each for my social, filial, and professional collectives. For the uninitiated—whom I know are very few—exchanging gifts during this season entails a consumerist ritual. The gifts are floor-priced. And prices are agreed upon—or, in some cases, ordered—prior to the occasion.

Depending on the presumed financial capabilities of people in a certain consumerist holidays collective, gifts, as much as possible, are branded products. Not necessarily high-end, but products that still display the price tag. Products that can easily be cross-checked at a mall to assure that the person who gave you the gift followed the price flooring.

This gift-exchanging tradition goes far back to my elementary days in a swampy barangay north of the Metro some three decades ago. There were gift-exchanges. Minimum gift prices in my first grade: five pesos. Grade six: thirty pesos (that, roughly put, was my first understanding of the many sound economic indicators that needed to be understood—the escalating prices of gifts).

I remember that I turned mint green (para cool) with envy when a grade three classmate, Antonio, got a three-fold umbrella from Miss Ecija, our teacher, for a twenty-peso gift exchange. Jackpot. What I got were two boxes of local chocolate pretzels for the two face towels my mother bought at the local market.

There were two instances, both when I was working for a government agency some ages back, that I received gifts with conspicuously-placed price tags and stickers exceeding, by two hundred pesos, the agreed price flooring of five hundred pesos. Ang sosyal, di ba? Only to find out, after some minor sleuthing, that both gifts I received were bought at a sale price, fifty percent off from the “original” value as per pricetag, which the wholehearted givers never bothered to remove. Heck, the stickers were there to affirm the “original” price! Gobyerno nga naman. Exchange gift na lang, ino-overprice pa.

Mabuti pa rin ako. Hindi ko tinitipid ang regalo sa exchange gift. My rule of thumb goes like, if it is for a male colleague, the gift I’d give is something I’d surely be glad to accept as well. Iyon lang. Kung matatanggap ko ang leather wallet na ito, magiging masaya ba ako? Kung matatanggap ko ba ang hoodie shirt, masaya ba ako? Ganyan.

Same thing goes to female recipients. Magugustuhan ba ng mahal kong asawa ang regalong bibilhin at ibibigay ko? If yes. Then buy and give. Entreprising malls have devised a way for buyers, separating gift prices depending on the exchange gift budget imposed upon the givers.

Tip: do not give—especially if it’s a random bunutan recipient gift exchanges—shirts or slippers or anything with varying sizes. Baka hindi magkasya. Kailangan pa bang i-memorize ‘yan?

Kailan nga ba ito nagsimula? It must have originated from some biblical passage, certain sagely thought of and with variations of the giving-is-receiving taken into its literal meaning. But then again, I can’t remember, nor can I historically and culturally trace the price- and value-flooring practices for gifts that are to be exchanged. Lalo na kung panahon ng kapaskuhan. Bakit kasi kailangang presyuhan ang “regalo”? It sounds so barter-trading to me.

At any rate, it sure does help our country’s commerce and industry during these capitalist holidays: OFW remittance is at its peak, balikbayans flock the airports, 13th month pay fuels expenditure, government funds need to be disbursed for the ending fiscal year lest it goes back to the general fund until the next budgeting season.

Pero iyon nga. Kaya marami na namang mangangaral na kesyo si Christ dapat ang nasa sentro ng Christmas, huwag kalimutan ang pagtulong sa kapwa, magbigayan, magmahalan, world peace, girls and boys, giving gifts, exchanging cards. Totoo naman. But then again, capitalist lords are more aggressive in equating the season with expenditures and priced gift-giving.

Basta ako, I would always be happier to give than to receive gifts. Hindi ako nagprepresyo sa magpapasaya sa tao. I won’t demand a price tag, I won’t give in to the industry whim. But if you’ll ask me what gifts I prefer most this Christmas? Simple lang. Love, peace, health, or a Seiko SBDX017 Marine Master Professional 300M diver automatic watch.




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