Tough Situations Dampen Christmas Spirit As Bicolanos Grapple With Inflation

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Bustling lanterns energized the streets of Legazpi as the Christmas rush made Albayanos shop for Noche buena after getting their hard-earned cash at the last minute. Amid the long blinding lights on the roads of Daraga, the moving rides in the carnival downtown Peรฑaranda, and the colorful lanterns in the twin plaza of Naga, Bicolanos grapple with bitter realities of this year's Christmas - we share tough situations.

After suffering through the horror of one of the world's strictest lockdowns, there is great anticipation for Filipinos to celebrate the Christmas of 2022 with more freedom and willingness to spend, but according to market analysis, this might be the most expensive celebration for years due to inflation.

"It's revenge spending on steroids," said Nicholas Mapa, an economist from the analysis firm ING. Despite suffering from an all-time high inflation rate of eight percent, the highest recorded since the great recession, the spirit may dampen a little, but the celebration continues.

โ€œThis is the first time in years baga kaya na ma-celebrate kitang Christmas na mayo na masyadong restrictions, so I think okay lang na gumastos [ng pera] dawa expensive dahil sa inflation na yan, para naman sa mga bata and itโ€™s once a year,โ€ said Mercedita Frias, a Christmas shoppper strolling around Naga City Peopleโ€™s Market.

There is an unwitting culture of spending among Filipinos during Christmas. It's like some kind of magical amnesia that makes us forget that we live in a difficult situation and share blessings with others regardless. Different stores and malls across the country decorate for the season as early as September giving this illusion of love and sharing to kick off the spending culture.

According to Packworks' business intelligence (BI) tool Sari IQ, the prices of common Filipino ingredients for Christmas are increasing even in sari-sari stores. The price of milk and cream rise by 11.84 percent, with milk packs and containers costing roughly P10 to P15 more expensive than previous prices.

"Consumers are already feeling the squeeze of the rising cost of living, and an increase to the cost of holiday staples is another stressor," said Andres Montiel, chief data officer of Packworks.

Due to this, several Bicolanos do downtrading, switching from an expensive or more extensive product to low-unit packs or lower-end brands to cut spending more.

โ€œSa bahay, thatโ€™s what we do. Here in Tabaco City kasi, dama rin yung inflation, so we have to be smarterโ€ฆthen we choose na lang products that are cheaper than what we traditionally buy during Christmas season but siyempre if not the same quality at least on par," said Joy Marie Cater, a BU student.

Meanwhile, sari-sari store owners are seeing more customers due to downtrading as Christmas buyers are cutting expenses by buying in smaller quantities which they cannot do in supermarkets.

โ€œDati for example bibili sila ng maramihan say for instance 1 dozen of canned goods, ngayon di na isahan since it would cost a lot, also like ngayon sa pag-gawa ng salad, instead na bilhin yung gatas na expensive pero masarap, they decided to buy the cheap one kahit na di ganun ka sarap yung product,โ€ said Monina Maestro, a sari-sari store owner from Ticao in Masbate town.
Zenaida Salanguste, a store owner from Pier Site in Aroroy Public Market, Masbate, observed that fewer people went to their stall compared to past years.

"Sobrang dalang ng mga mamimili ngayon kumpara noong nakaraan na pasko, dati halos hindi kami maka hinga sa sobrang init at dagsaan ng mga mamimili pero ngayon halos lamigin ka nalang kakabantay maghapon,โ€ said Salanguste.

Bicolanos are predominantly catholic, meaning giant Christmas trees all over government plazas, and celebrations are centered on families and festivities evident on multiple big festivals across the region.

In Albay, for example, amid the energy crisis and disputes, we have seen lantern decors such as tunnel lights in Daraga town and Christmas villages and carnivals in Legazpi City. Nothing will stop the celebration of Christmas.

โ€œIba pa rin kasi talaga ang Christmas, meron kakaibang spirit na binibigay saโ€™tin. It is celebrated at the end of the year and kahit magastos, itโ€™s symbolic. Itโ€™s hope, itโ€™s for children, and itโ€™s joy for us,โ€ said Eden Zaragosa, a retired teacher from Masbate.

Eden said something true to some Bicolanos - we value Christmas as much as Peรฑafrancia festivities and all the other regional celebrations. It's in our culture and our identity as Filipinos, but let's hope the government will do something the next time not to dampen the Christmas spirit.

"Ramdam talaga namin yung pagmahal ng mga bilihin, kahit nga karneng baboy na tinitinda ng asawa ko, tinaasan din namin yung presyo kasi pahirapan din paghanap ng patatabain. Gayunpaman, sobrang importante pa rin talaga sa pamilya namin na maraming ihanda sa hapag-kainan, ito lang yung isa sa mga pagkakataon na magkakasama kaming mag-celebrate kasi yung mga anak ko buong taon nagtatrabaho at nag-aaral ngayon lang naka-uwi,โ€ said Victoria Nietes, a meat store owner from Bacacay, Albay when asked about the Christmas in the midst of inflation.

No one must steal the spirit of Christmas - not the inflation or the government's hypocrisy. Filipinos must not tolerate even incompetency.

๐‘ฎ๐’“๐’‚๐’‘๐’‰๐’Š๐’„๐’” ๐’ƒ๐’š ๐‘ซ๐’š๐’‚๐’ ๐‘จ๐’›๐’‚๐’ฬƒ๐’‚