Monday, December 25, 2006

A Joyful and Blessed Christmas Eve

The eve of 2006 Christmas is now history in our annals of events. And it was spent in a typically joyous fashion: thoughtful presents, great food, convivial company, and blessed atmosphere.

Earlier in the day, I had received this great book gift from my D in Oregon, Positive Thinking, which set the mood for the rest of the day. Then a friend of mine from Malaysia emailed me this gift: Playa Cofi, an online jukebox comprising the best of the top 100 from the golden years of popular music, including the 1970s and the 1980s, my favorite song periods. While the gifts are simple and may seem “cheap”, they do not render the thoughts behind the gifts any less meaningful. On the contrary, I really appreciate the considerations that have gone into the gift selection, with the particular liking of the recipient in mind.

So often these days gifts are selected (by those giving) and evaluated (by those receiving) on the sole basis of cost, the higher the better, that they give rise to feelings of dissatisfaction and ill-will, instead of as a token of appreciation of mutual admiration and collegiality.

This reminds me of a rerun episode of Office, the popular NBC TV sitcom, that I watched recently on DVD. The boss, Michael, bought an overly expensive gift for Ryan, a temp, during an annual Christmas gift exchange. On the other hand, Phyllis, a female employer, knitted an oven mitt for Michael. When Ryan opened his gift, everybody was like agog over the gift. And Michael was himself a picture of smugness bordering on conceit. When he found out what his gift was, he instantly transformed into a spiteful low-life, bad-mouthing Phyllis for her audacity to even consider such a cheap gift. That Phyllis has spent countless hours laboring over the knitting handiwork did not enter his thick skull nor matter a bit to his warped sense of self-importance.

Then he invoked his veto power as the boss to change the rule of the game, to one that is conventionally called a white elephant game where the participant, in the order of a number drawn, chooses a gift from a collection that is anonymously “donated” as per the pre-set rules of the game (as was the case in my office party). Michael called it the Yankee Swap while another ventured the more sinister moniker, “nasty Christmas game”. But nobody demurred as the office dynamics played out according to the hierarchy.

From then on, the game degenerated into an open grab for the most expensive item in the bounty: the watch. The considerations that have gone into the gift selection and destined for a particular recipient all but dissipated and instead, the most basic and base human emotion now governed: greed.

Sorry for the unintentional rant but I do feel strongly that the gift should be appropriate for the occasion and for the intended recipient as well. Anyway let’s continue with my joyous ride for the rest of the day.

We were invited to a dinner at Brian and Connie’s house, one which we frequent the most, primarily because it’s the venue for the monthly Buddhist group chanting session that my wife participates.

See here for a whole array of food served, thanks to the kind efforts of Brian, Connie, and Tammy, their daughter: roasted turkey, ham, tofu, and a smorgasbord of numerous dishes that are beyond my very limited range of cuisine as far as names are concerned, but definitely not food tasting and ingestion.

As for the company, the occasion was graced by a Bhante and a Bhikkhuni from St. Pete. In addition to several fellow Buddhist friends, I also met, for the first time, Joe and Steve.

Joe is a post-doc at UF and naturally our conversation centered around Gators’ performance in football and basketball, including the one-sided victory over the Buckeyes last weekend. Joe is also a soccer referee and used to play in the forward position. So we also mutually tested our recollection of soccer greats (Pele, Diego Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer, etc.) and found that some are common in our lists.

Then there was Steve, who has just moved from Utah to Tampa, from a closely knit community of Mormons to a networked metropolis of creative people that Tampa is renowned for. Together with Brian, whom I have known for some time now, the conversation of the ostensibly male group kind of gravitated toward energy sources: from fossil fuels that contribute to global warming, bio fuels such as methanol that accounts for about 85% of the energy consumption in Brazil where land is aplenty, to nuclear energy that Europe seems to embrace while there is a guarded wariness in US in the aftermath of the Three Mile Islands and Chernobyl accidents. Then the topic switched to hybrid cars where the primary concerns relate to car maintenance after the warranty period and handling the cars in emergency situations, say, fire after a collision (electric shock?).

Then it was time to listen to a brief Dharma talk by Bhante followed by his utterance of blessing for the evening. Among other things, Bhante explained the virtue of giving and admonished that children are the wealth of the parents.

After bidding good night to the Bhante and the Bhikkhuni, the group broke down into threesomes based on gender. Connie, Claudia (Steve’s wife), and my wife engaged in an animated discussion of the various sutras such as the Platform sutra of the 6th Patriarch Venerable Hui Neng, in Mandarin, which is their mother tongue.

On the other hand, the men (Brian, Steve and me) held a general discourse on our respective work environments, the pros and cons of renting near the work place, commuting to work, and even tele-commuting.

What about our kids, you asked? Ooh, we lost track but were pretty sure that they must have occupied themselves in banter like siblings do.

We parted company around ten-thirtyish, and yet were alert enough to enjoy the night scene on the drive home. Some of the Christmas decorations were just amazing in terms of the scale, extent, and details, and the kind of efforts the owners had put in for this once-a-year festival.


CY said...

Yay! Glad you liked my gift! :D It's actually an issue of a magazine, one that you have to search for in supermarkets. :D

Say Lee said...

And I actually found the online copy, at least the cover.

Come to think of it, I never did see the magazine displayed in the bookstores. Maybe I did not look hard enough.