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Harbinger of the Holidays

It always gives me a laugh whenever people use Jose Mari Chan as a harbinger of the Christmas season. Toward the latter part of August, social media is abuzz with funny memes and posts about the transition to the “ber” months which inevitably starts the countdown to the longest Christmas season in the world. It is amazing how Filipinos get creative and funny on social media. Only in the Philippines indeed!



But as a retailer I have a different way of determining the start of the Christmas season — I observe. Specifically, I visit my malls, walk around, sit at one of our Coffee Project branches and, basically just watch people go malling. There is always a different vibes when the holiday season kicks in. And it is not about a particular date in the calendar, it’s about how people feel and behave.



For instance, during the past two Christmas seasons when the Covid-19 virus was still raging the holidays were understandably less than jolly. I remember the first Christmas after the pandemic hit in 2020, there was a defiant feeling that Christmas should not be cancelled because of the virus but there was also this cautious feeling that we should all be careful when celebrating with our loved ones for fear of spreading infections.



But this year is different. I have been going around Vista Malls and I can feel something different in the air. For one, the Covid-19 daily infection rates are not as frightening as before. Despite periodic spikes, hospitalizations have been low at around 30 percent and many anecdotal evidences suggest that most infections have manifested mild symptoms. Of course, we should be wary of the term “mild” as some might have different experiences but some do describe their experience as “flu-like” that does not require hospitalizations.



The most important change in our behavior during this pandemic, I think, is that feeling of freedom from fear. Do you still remember the first year of the pandemic or whenever there would be a surge? Most of us are paralyzed by fear. Today, people are still wary of the virus but based on my observations many are trying their best to bring their lives back to normal — not as it was before Covid — but attempting to live life as normally as possible. You feel the sense of liberation that people have as they start enjoying going outdoors again.



I see a lot of people visiting malls with their families; eating at restaurants, having coffee, walking around, buying essentials and non-essentials, and generally, enjoying their day. The cinemas have not returned to pre-pandemic levels yet but it has improved. And this is not just in Vista Malls but in all other malls. This is good because this will allow the retail industry to recover which translates to more jobs and more income for people. As I drive around, I also see many people on the streets, in markets, children enjoying the outdoors again. It is a liberating feeling. Even in my case, I have resumed face-to-face meetings with our executives which I usually hold in Coffee Project locations. And I see a lot of people holding meetings or just chatting with friends in coffeeshops.



Contrary to the naysayers and despite the fact that government has relaxed the face mask mandates outdoors, I still see people wearing masks and, in general, observing health and safety protocols. And I think that is the whole point of all this — we are finally enjoying our freedom once again. The freedom that was taken away by the pandemic — the freedom to move around, to be with friends, to enjoy the outdoors and more importantly, the freedom from fear. We need to be careful still because we know the virus is still there but we realize that we also need to move on with our lives.



The crowds are back at the malls, the kids are back in schools, shows and concerts have returned, tourism is slowly being revitalized, and the economy is revving up once more. It is going to be a happy Christmas season. And we deserve it after more than two years of leaving in fear of this virus.




Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar