Back home in the Philippines, Christmas is the most anticipated time of the year. Rich and poor alike celebrate with equal joy and festivity. When I lived in a small village in the Philippines, my family would always have special food, gifts, and clan get-togethers. It is a time when love is shared generously.
But growing up in conflict-ridden Mindanao, especially in the 1980s, there were many times when such a season of cheer was marred by hostilities. I remember leaving our home and seeking refuge in a relative’s house in town for safety, without a clue of when we could go back in peace.
Often, we shared the space of other relatives who ran away like us. I remember sitting huddled in a corner thinking about the Christmas celebration in school that was no longer possible. My child’s mind could not understand why fighting had to hinder the good things I was supposed to enjoy.
My life in Mindanao and my work in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq covering stories of the internally displaced have made me see that the spirit of Christmas can only be fully experienced if we do not forget people who are hurting and show we care.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.—John 1:14
There is always a tug in my heart as I see the bright Christmas lights in many cities, while internally displaced families endure silently in the camps, helpless and suffering. Christmas, then, at this point in my life, means empathy. While I know I cannot save the world with my own hands, I can find a way to show I care. This is the true essence of the season, shown in Jesus Christ’s birth in a manger with the help of strangers.
It breaks my heart to think of millions of Iraqi children are now sitting in one corner of a tent, like I once did, wondering why they are deprived of celebrating Christmas because of a war they can do nothing about. Our empathy and care is what these children need.
Cecil Laguardia is from the Philippines and has worked as a World Vision communicator there and around the globe. Currently, she is the communications manager for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.