Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated our 50th birthdays together with a party in Cebu. Our birthdays are only a week apart – hers on the 23rd and mine on the 31st of December. We held our party at Cebu’s Golden Prince Hotel, with a hundred guests.
We don’t usually do this sort of thing – i.e. hold birthday parties, but this time was special. The 50th birthday is a landmark event, especially in the Netherlands, where we now live. The Dutch call it “meeting Abraham” for men , and “meeting Sarah” for women. This is supposed to signify that we are now old and wise – since in the past, very few people lived to be 50; and thus you must be wise to be able to have done so.
The celebration was particularly significant also since it was done in Cebu, where we were able to spend our Christmas season this year. We don’t usually spend Christmas in the Philippines because it is usually difficult to get permission to be away from work (and studies) for long. July-August is the preferred time for vacation, since we could manage to have about 4 weeks vacation in the Philippines; while in Christmas it would usually have to be only a bit over 2 weeks.
For many of our kababayans abroad, Christmas could be one of the most lonely and sad times of the year. We know that our Philippine-based relatives are together, and that we are “alone” in our cold countries with only our immediate family with us. Of course, we find ways of coping – for example, our small family (4 in total) agree to set our schedules so that we spend all our time together from the 23rd till the 31st – all work and outside appointments are not allowed. So, we play board games, cook, shop, etc. together, in a yearly bonding ritual. Most of the year we are so busy with our various schedules, that we are only complete for a few hours a week. Other Filipinos attend various Christmas parties, masses and such.. if one wants, it is quite possible to fill up your Christmas holidays with such events.
Even if we’ve been abroad for more than 24 years, we miss the Philippines, or more accurately, we miss our family and friends in the Philippines quite a lot. For us the Philippines is not a place or a nation, but people whom we love, and whom we only see once every few years. We miss being “normal” again – my daughter Elena remarked upon leaving the airport that it is nice being around people that look like her – that she is not anymore a short, black haired, Asian in a sea of tall, blond/brown haired Dutch. It’s indeed nice. It’s so nice we don’t need to flaunt being balikbayans – being inconspicuous and unnoticed is too nice to waste.
Coming to the Philippines is a time to touch base, to again feel the pulse of our family, friends, our people. It is more about what we are able to save up as baon for our years far away. Unlike many balikbayans, we are fortunate to have family and friends who don’t expect us to treat them every time, or things like that. We pay for meals just as often as they would. I explained to a Pinoy abroad that when I go home, my friends are genuinely happy to see me. I suppose that would mean that I have sincere, real friends, who see me for who I am and not for what I can spend for. I guess that is why I am really here on a vacation, and can relax during our whole stay here.