The drama of saving the best for last must have been meant especially for the “ber” months. As the end of the calendar year draws closer, the Philippines wears a happy mood to mark the start of the “ber” season — a crescendo of celebrations reaching its climax with the back-to-back grand finale of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
I don’t know why but most of my friends and family members mark birthdays in September. The old joke is that the cold and romantic month of December had a lot to do with it.
But I don’t mind getting invitations left and right whenever September comes around. As I grow older, I realize that attending birthday parties has assumed a profound significance: At this stage of our lives, every chance to spend time together is important, knowing there might not be as many more birthdays to celebrate. Birthdays are an opportunity to make up for lost time, and to remember with joy the times well spent.
When I was a kid, the arrival of the “ber” months brought me a special thrill. The weather became a little less warmer at this time, and gradually became colder the closer we got to December. In the coastal town where I grew up, the “ber” months signaled the arrival of the great migratory birds that flocked to our riverside barangay by the hundreds. The feathered invaders included shrikes (tarat), which got their name from the sound they make. These birds would perch motionless on power lines and leafless tree branches, foolishly exposing themselves to our slingshots while making their strident calls, as if challenging us to take a shot. Anyone who was a child at that point in time would always remember the simple happiness of those bygone years.
Money and relationships become important as you grew older, but until then, happiness is a girl with a rag doll or a boy with a slingshot.
September-October was harvest time for the luscious lanzones, the reason our family made what became a traditional pilgrimage to a relative’s home in Nagcarlan, Laguna. They had a small farm at the foot of Mount Banahaw planted with the exquisite fruit that has become the symbol of Laguna, making the province famous. Harvest time is an event in itself, which we wouldn’t miss. The townspeople helped one another harvest the lanzones by baskets, hoisting these atop their heads to be loaded onto a waiting dray pulled by a carabao.
At night when all the work was done, the old folks got together for rounds of lambanog and the children feasted on lanzones, picking those that were too ripe for the trip to the market the next day. The conversations among the elders served as occasions to mend fences and laugh together. It was during one of those gatherings that I overheard as a child that the tiny barrio of Taytay in Nagcarlan celebrated Christmas on Dec. 26, making the 25th their Christmas Eve. That meant you could celebrate Christmas elsewhere in the Philippines, then go to Barrio Taytay the next day and enjoy Christmas Day a second time.
The memory of those September days lingers in my mind like an old Amorsolo painting celebrating the simple joys of farm life. And like a masterpiece that may fade and lose some of its colors, the image becomes all the more priceless—and much more beautiful to behold, as all works of art when they manage to survive the ravages of time.
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Adel Abillar is a private law practitioner with a small office in Quezon City where, he says, “I alternate between being boss and messenger.”
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