It was a silent night when He was born on a manger, in a stable in Bethlehem. Only the gentle lowing of the cows and the muffled braying of the donkey whispered welcome to the world. No crying out in pain by Mary, His Mother, who smiled in ecstatic adoration at the little Child Jesus, the Promised Redeemer of the world. Joseph held back an awed gasp at first sight of Him, whom he knew was his God.
Silent Night, Holy Night — that was the first Christmas. Might it not have been the message in a dream to the sleeping world of how simple and peaceful life would be and should be, without the heavy demands of human attachments and vanities, and the drumming noise of enmities with others and with one’s conscience over fame and fortune?
Yet since the celebration of Christmas was initiated in Christian Rome in about 300 A.D., and through the two millennia from then, the symbolism of the Silent Night slowly faded and changed its meaning. Perhaps Christmas may have generally evolved into a world folk tradition. The brash jingle bells loudly clang out what might merely be a pagan celebration of yet another year-end respite from the mad rush to survive and get ahead in the world. Over two billion people (over a third of the world’s population) will observe the Christmas tradition this year, as it is a public holiday in more than half of the countries of the world, including those that are not Christian.
But Christmas Day this year (2020) will be a Silent Night. Eerily, it might well be the first Silent Night since the Silent Night of the true Christmas, when Jesus Christ was born.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic was officially announced by the World Health Organization in March, 218 countries and territories around the world have to date reported a total of 70,859,454 confirmed cases of the coronavirus that originated from Wuhan, China in December 2019, and a death toll of 1,591,363 deaths. (COVID statistics from worldmetersinfo.com, Dec. 11, 2020). By April 2020, about half of the world’s population was under lockdown, with more than 3.9 billion people in more than 90 countries or territories having been asked or ordered to stay at home by their governments. It is the first, most encompassing shutdown ever, that has silenced the whole world.
Reinstated closures upon surges in contamination, like the second and third waves in many countries, continued to limit activities and movements of people. Initially, only essential businesses were allowed to open, then other businesses partially opened with reduced staff and operations. Schools, universities, and colleges have closed either on a nationwide or local basis in 80 countries, affecting approximately 61.6% of the world’s student population, according to UN statistics.
The closures and slowdowns in the COVID-19 pandemic have affected the world economy. All major economies (except China) suffered declines in their Gross National Product (GDP), with India (No. 5 in terms of GDP at $3.26 T) falling the hardest, with a 23.9% contraction in the 2020 April-June quarter. Note that India is No. 2 in the list of countries having the most COVID-19 infections/deaths in the world, with 9,796,992 COVID cases and 142,222 deaths among its population of 1,380,004,385. It is the second most affected country in the world. The US has had 16,039,393 COVID-19 cases and 299,692 deaths among its population of 331,002,651, dragging down its $22.20 trillion GDP as of 2019 by 9.1% in the 2020 April-June quarter.
The Philippines (No. 37 with a GDP of $389.05 billion) growth rate dropped by 16.5% in the second quarter of 2020, the country’s lowest recorded quarterly growth since the 1981 financial crisis. Its 445,540 COVID cases and 8,701 deaths among its population of 109,581,078 (2019) makes it the second most contaminated next to Indonesia (population 273,523,615) in Southeast Asia. Indonesia (No. 16 with a GDP of $1.21 trillion) has had 598,933 COVID cases and 18,336 deaths to date.
China, the second largest economy in the world ($15.47 trillion) and the most populous with 1,439,323,776 people, has had 86,688 COVID 19 cases and 4,634 deaths, despite that fact that the virulent coronavirus originated from Wuhan province, as reported internationally in December 2019 (but officially declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization only on March 17). Could it be that their early lockdown of the entire Hubei area and strict confined-to-quarters orders to all in Wuhan prevented the spread to the rest of its people, as they also immediately worked on medicine and treatments for the novel coronavirus? China’s reward for its focus and discipline is it’s practically undisrupted manufacturing and exporting to the rest of the world. The paranoia against “Made in China” has been beaten to silence and meek surrender by the need for ready Chinese goods in the dearth of supplies from anywhere else during the shutdowns in the pandemic. In the April-June quarter of 2020, the Chinese economy grew by 3.2%.
But that the lockdowns and slowdowns have affected GDP because of scarce labor, money, and land (resources) is still debated, and whether restrictions imposed by government pull down production and challenge material survival above health risks. Which is more important, health or wealth? Governments will always say they have to calibrate the imposed restrictions and opening up the economy — to balance health versus economic concerns. There is that politically critical GDP figure to be watched.
Never has government been allowed to control people’s lives more than because of this virulent and vicious supra-dictator, the coronavirus pandemic. Go home, stay home. Why, it is almost like the time when Jesus Christ was born, and King Herod, following the orders of the emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus, enforced the census to count their subjects: Everybody go back to your hometowns and register yourselves so you can be monitored.
“So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:4-7)
All who were from Bethlehem were dutifully home. And according to the stars, Jesus was born in that manger, in the little cave that was a stable, on that Silent Night.
We are still in lockdown under general community quarantine (GCQ) in Metro Manila and most of the country until the end of the year. (Other areas are on modified community quarantine, MCQ.) City mayors have banned Christmas parties as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus crisis. It was announced as early as October that churches may open at 30% capacity in the Christmas season, for the traditional Misa de Gallo novena Masses before the Christmas Day Mass, but all within the curfew rules. The traditional big family reunions on Christmas and New Year will not be allowed. No fireworks. No noise making.
And if silence had an echo, it will be a Silent Night in the world on Christmas Day this year, as country after country have declared bans on merrymaking and assembling. In British Columbia, for example, the prohibitions on social gatherings in homes and events have been extended to midnight on Jan. 8, 2021. “As hard as this may be, let’s remember the sacrifices that we make now will protect our loved ones and countless others throughout the province,” the Health Minister said. Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, has warned that January could be a “really dark time” for the US as COVID-19 deaths surge and Americans prepare to travel for Christmas (Daily Telegraph, Dec. 8).
No fireworks, no firecrackers on Christmas, even in China where these were invented in the 11th century to dispel evil spirits and create space for good feng shui to work on balancing the chi — the inner soul. Perhaps “Silent Night” this Christmas is really space created for humanity to look into itself in the forced isolation and silence of the COVID-19 pandemic: what has the world come to in the obsessive competition for power and wealth that has created anger and enmity among fellowmen?
On a Silent Night a little Babe was born in a manger, in a stable in Bethlehem.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.