So much to be thankful for

“T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. …” goes the most familiar Christmas narration this side of the secular divide. St. Nicholas turned Santa Claus, now simply called “Santa,” a beloved figure in the U.S. imagination. NORAD regularly issues sightings of the bearded grandpa with the flying reindeers.

I am a renegade Christian by organized religion’s standards. I did not choose to rebel in order to defy authority. I just no longer participate in the symbol system of the church as they probably find mine less colorful than the pageantry of the Yuletide season.

Christmas of old was chosen for the days when the sun was at its southernmost location (Southern Cross) and the Mediterranean celebrated the birth of the Egyptian sun god Osiris, Greek Apollo, Roman Bacchus, Chaldean Adonis, Persian Mithra; Virgo of the Zodiac (the sun is born of a virgin) rose in the horizon. The pagan festival of the winter solstice became the nativity of Jesus. Spring equinox that rebirthed the sun played host to Easter.

My social nurture until the ’60s was highlighted by the babe in the manger in swaddling clothes, watched by shepherds at night, visited by three magi from the East, bringing gifts of gold (royalty), frankincense (life’s aroma), and myrrh (death), a journey of life from beginning to end. None of these gifts were common in the rainforest of Sanchez Mira, the delta of Aparri, or the market town by the river in Laoag, but each December we got up the stage to play designated roles. I started as a shepherd boy graduating into a bearded St. Joseph with a headdress on a forehead band and a cane. 

Christmas Eve, like every celebration the night before an eventful moment, is a time of great anticipation, of promise and hope observed in solemnity. Christmas eve came as a time of family gathering and the singing of Christmas songs. Never mind that most of the songs were of European imagery, of lights and greeneries, things that we take for granted as common in the tropics, but are seasonal in Nordic/Scandinavia countries. Still, the ambience of hope is unmistakable.

When I hear Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli belt out his version of “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” I hear someone imagining alpine Italy or the mountain range in the middle of the Mediterranean boot-shaped country that gave us black jackets and soave (suave in French and swah-ve to Pinas); south of Venice is hardly “white Christmas” country. It actually does not matter. Andrea was blinded in a soccer game at the young age of 12 so he sings from the heart, especially with “I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.” The singing of white Christmas on Saipan gets many teary eyed, even those who have not seen snow.

Sleigh-bell rides on open one-horse sleds while the white stuff comes down is our image of Christmas and this has nothing to do with the historical Jesus who might have been born on a snowless Bethlehem. It has to do with European symbols of life in the middle of dark and cold winters.

And what are the signs of hope indigenous to the islands that are not related to the forced gaiety an acquaintance attributes to be compliments of BSI and ACG? The casinos flexing muscles to turn the islands into the Las Vegas of the Far East is not questioned. A lawyer friend says it provides employment for his young. The innocent amongst us shall be excused. We sold our bodies a long time ago to be a “strategic military location for Uncle Sam” so let’s not pretend we had not walked down this street before!

It is the language and skin color on our streets in Garapan that has changed. OK, the diversity so far is mostly in the tourist area but with Tinian Dynasty renewing its license (though did not reopen on the 15th as publicized), and Alter City talking big on the future of Tinian, the eventuality of a Las Vegas of the islands is most likely.

Mariana Resort and the Nihonggo owners neglected the units in Saipan’s north after the Nippon made itself scarce, but when China started coming, the resort applied their first coat of paint. Kan Pacific’s efforts to publicize her loyalty and fealty to the islands were laughable. They too got bought. BSI jumped into bed on the remaining lease; Zhongguo renminbi, Nippon yen, Hanguk won and Russia rubles get the eye. We no longer question DPL’s independence.

Indigenes learned of Torrens title years ago. Though there are constitutional provisions to protect the ownership of land, communal rights are in dispute as some land got titled before the commons were parceled into parts. Ancestral rights to property get the ear of the Judiciary but Carolinians’ claims need documents more than the demonstrated navigational skills from Satawal to Pagan to Japan. Or the elders say so.

Still, there is so much to be thankful for. Who are singing carols? Lawyers’ offices take the lead. But on the night before Christmas, we all are. Here, light a sparkler.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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