Last Friday was a special day. I received a small envelop, with my name neatly written on it. I recognized the penmanship but I was not quite sure. I eagerly ripped it open like I normally do, and voila... a nice invitation. I was right after all. It was from my mother-in-law.
That's one thing about my in-laws. When they invite you, it doesn't matter what the occasion is, they always send invitations with all the details. Sometimes, it includes a road map, the parking arrangement, and our hotel room number (if the celebration is taking place out of town). You see, my father-in-law insists on paying close attention to details. He therefore gives you no room for mistakes or excuses either! HAHAHAHA
A few years back, this sort of formality made me nervous. I mean, it's not as if we haven't discussed the matter over the phone because believe me, we did! But as I've said, my father-in-law is very particular about these things.
I looked at the invitation. Oh yes, my dearest Pappa-in-law is turning 75 this year. It´s his Diamond Year. An ideal present would be a pair of diamond cufflings. But I am just a poor girl. I can't afford such expensive presents.
Whereas in the Philippines the most important day is Christmas Day, here in the Netherlands, it's your birthday. Kiddie parties are nice. The birthday celebrator wears a paper crown. The dining table is adorned with fresh flowers, and the celebrator´s chair is decorated with paper flowers or paper balloons. They also hang banderetas all over the living room and the dining table. It´s actually fun. The entire house looks very colorful.
Adult birthday on the other hand, is an entirely different story.
When I was single and was still living in the Philippines, I always looked forward to my birthdays. We even have a birthday leave in the Philippines. Meaning, you don´t have to report to work on your birthday and the best part about it is that you are entitled to it, and they pay you. HUH! Only in the Philippines!! HAHAHAHA
My collegues at work would take me out for dinner then, would split the bill among themselves. I can eat what I want --- I always choose the most expensive meal on the menu, drink as much wine as I want, and go dancing all night long. But only because they insist on it, plus the fact that they pay for everything.
There were also those birthdays I spent with my best friend. Just the two of us doing silly things like that one time that we ate pizza the whole night! :)
Whenever my birthday falls on a weekend, my siblings would then take me out. Same thing. They pay the bill. When my lawyer sisters have established good names for themselves, they started taking me to five star hotels where we dined and stayed for a weekend. My only task is to have fun and more fun. Don´t you just love my life then? I DO!!! HAHAHAHA
When I was a kid, having my birthday meant that I didn´t have to do my chores for a day. If we had fried chicken (in those days, we don´t eat chicken very often even though we have a poultry, and especially not my Ma´s mouth watering fried chicken!), I got the best and biggest part of the chicken. The leg! hehehe
In the beginning, Ma baked the cake. Later on, she didn´t have time anymore to bake, so we had pineapple pie, pianono and sometimes, egg pie from Legaspi (the neighboring province). Since it was my birthday, I had the liberty to have the biggest slice. No question asked from my other siblings.
The nicest part of my birthday, was the social telegram I got from my Pa annually. It was a big thing to me then .... still is, except that Pa passed away 7 years ago so the cards stopped coming.
Ahhhh... birthdays! How I love them...
Until I moved to the Netherlands. Birthdays became my most dreaded day of the year. Here's why....
Before my birthday, I spend two weekends scrubbing every nook and cranny of my house. My mother-in-law is coming, you see. Although she is a very nice lady and doesn't criticise my cleaning skills, she still is a Dutch woman.
She washes her glass window (come high and low... winter or summer) every 2 weeks. Her kitchen is like a page from a magazine. Everything shiny and smelling clean. The linens in her linen cabinet have cross-stitch and laces, and are labeled by months. The wine in their cellar is alphabetically arranged. The crytals and silver ware are sparkling clean. I could go on and on. Bottom line, she's a typical Dutch wife. She cleans, cooks, bakes, sews and makes clothes, does quilt, paints, has her ornamental and herbal plants in their gardens, drives a car and owns a bicycle. In other words, a general in her own kingdom!
So yes, I make an effort whenever they are coming for a visit. I don't want her to think that I am dirty or that I have a dirty household because I don't. I just think that it's a waste of time to scrub and wash my glass windows in Fall or during Winter. But I'm a naturalized Dutch citizen. I was not born and raised here. I only do glasses in Springtime and Summertime. hehehehe
I am getting side tracked. Going back to birthdays....
A week before my birthday, I spend at least 4 or 5 afternoons at supermarkets. I always forget something even though I have a list in my hand! And since I want to impress my guests, I only buy ingredients that I find or think are fresh and reputable (meaning, I know the brand and have used it before).
The day before my birthday, I am in the kitchen preparing and cooking. The whole day! I go to sleep late and get up early to do more cleaning... last minute vacuuming and dusting of furniture. The guests start arriving at 2 PM. Then the fun begins. It will be hours of waiting on people. You will hear me talk like an android until the last guest leaves. My lines would include: Would you like to have a cup of coffee or tea? How about a glass of orange juice? Apple juice maybe? Cola? Port wine? Oh, do you need an extra fork? I'll be right back. Petit four or a slice of cake? Apple pie with or without whipped cream?
Around 6 PM, dinner is served. Since we have a small table, buffet it is. The waiting on people goes on and on and on... By the time they have gone home, I am on the brink of a nervous breakdown, suffering from over-fatigue and am about to cry because I still have to clean my kitchen which looks pretty much like a war zone. HAHAHAHAHAHA
If you want to read more about Dutch birthdays, visit this website: http://everything2.com/title/Dutch+birthday+party+protocol
As for my father-in-law, he will be celebrating his 75th birthday in a castle. That's another thing about the Netherlands. You can rent a castle for one afternoon. Nice, isn't it?