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‘Ber’ births

/ 05:20 AM September 07, 2018

One of the cultural practices I picked up while studying in the Netherlands was the use of the verjaardag, a birthday calendar, which only has the months and days of each month, but not the days of the week (Monday, Tuesday, etc.) Next to each day of the month, you put in names of people whose birthdays fall on that date, together with their year of birth. It’s a quaint invention that means the calendar can be used forever, and yet gets updated now and then.

To make sure people remember the birthdays, the calendar is put in a special place that people “visit” each morning, with some time for reflection.  No, not the breakfast table.

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This morning I looked at my verjaardag, a nice one with Van Gogh paintings, and realized I hadn’t flipped the page to September. It’s the page with the most names of relatives and friends.

I used to pore through birth statistics when I headed a health research group in the 1990s, and I noticed that, for the longest time ever, September was the “birth-iest” month in the Philippines. The reason is simple, but we anthropologists love to complicate simple matters, so here goes.

Presuming most people born that month were full term, meaning products of a nine-month pregnancy, it means the September celebrants were mostly made in December. I’d relate this to the “ber” phenomenon in the Philippines, where Christmas begins in September.

It seems that, on Sept. 1, we formally mark our transition not just to Christmas but to the new year. With our “unli” optimism, we ride on hope to be as happy as we can be. No one calls out Merry Christmas yet, but notice how people do tend to be more cheerful, more gracious, and, for people working in the service sector, more helpful at this time, knowing that this can translate to generous tips and bonuses from customers.

Happiness seeps into our bodies, becoming part of our psyche and muscle memory. Just being nice, which I wish was something we can be the entire year rather than just during the ber season, becomes us, and becomes natural. The ber niceness is all too often contrived, but even with that forced effort, you find yourself enjoying your own niceness to others.

So, contrived or natural, from September onwards we feel nicer and friendlier. Come December, even if the drop in temperature is only a few degrees, the season spells all coziness and intimacy—in other words, a time to cuddle and huddle.

It’s a nice thought for those of us born in September, products of a December that’s the most romantic and loving. You can almost hear the cymbals and the trumpets of December. Do be bold and proclaim: We’re the climax of the ber season and of the year!

But, wait, anthropologists are scientists, and science requires us to dig up as much information as possible. So I did look up more recent statistics (2013 to 2015) in a UN database. Out of curiosity, I looked at the births in the United States, and they have a different pattern: September ranks only third in the number of births, with July and August vying for the top. That means American babies are made more in October and November, and I’ll need more time to figure out why.

On the other hand, for the Philippines, I was surprised to find that, from 2013 to 2015, October and November had dethroned September for the most births, which means more babies are being made in January and February.

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My take on the figures is that December has become such a busy time, including battling traffic gridlock, that fewer people now have the time, or energy, to make babies. Mind you, the figures for September births are still high, ranking third in the year, but it seems more babies are now being made after the Christmas rush, and after the ber months. January offers some respite, and February—well, it’s Cupid’s month.

When I have more time, I’ll do a more comprehensive cultural study of these birth statistics, including trying to figure out why February and March have the least births in the Philippines. Might it correlate with unromantic weather—the unbearable heat of May and the rains of June?

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TAGS: Christmas, cultural practices, opinion, Philippines
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