The Philippines, according to Wikipedia, is said to observe the longest Christmas season in the world.
This is true. Malls put up Christmas trees and play carols as early as September. Homes are festooned with lights in November. I was aghast to learn that a cousin in the US bought her tree only a week ago; I had ours up and flashing by November 3, right after hundas or the local Dia del Muerte observances.
By the first week of December, restaurants and bars are fully booked for the seemingly endless rounds of parties. For the average employed Filipino adult, there are at least two that one can count on being invited to – the office party and the barkada get-together. The entire month is one big party, and everyone’s invited!
Work and office planning is hardly done around this time – “Magpa-Pasko na (Christmas is coming), you should’ve done that in October or November,” is something heard frequently. Most activities are postponed. “After Christmas na ‘yan, ha.” Work slows. Shopping speeds up. Stores are full of people, pockets bulging with their thirteenth-month pay and bonuses, eager to spend it all on gifts for family and friends. Employers nod indulgently as employees take two-hour lunches and return laden with shopping bags. They themselves leave early for corporate holiday affairs, golf tournaments in Baguio, and out-of-the-country vacations.
With pressure easing on all sides, a sense of relaxation pervades. This makes the holidays a perfect time for renewing friendships. Last Friday, I met up with one of my best friends, Adelle Chua, opinion editor of Manila Standard-Today, where I am a horseracing columnist. We see each other perhaps three to four times a year. We eat, catch up on the latest, eat, share feminist philosophies, eat. We did all our eating at the Racks’ in El Pueblo (Ortigas), where the succulent and tender sweet baby back ribs and side dishes keep us coming back for more.
After dinner, we went for dessert and coffee next door, to San Francisco Coffee Co. Die-hard Starbucks habitues, we were thinking of walking to the one at Emerald Avenue. But SFCC had an interesting sign – “Free WiFi.” We swung the glass doors open and walked in.
Not that we were able to try out the wi-fi. A delicious smell of syrup and coffee wafted us into our seats. Comfortably ensconced with coffee in mugs and an oatmeal bar in front of us, we chatted the night away. We must have covered a dozen topics, ranging from parents and parenting, DNA testing, and religion to fountain pens, the effects of aging on interpersonal relationships, and inner-spring mattresses.
Adelle and I are both writers. Bound by our common love of language, we deplored the declining standards of grammar, spelling, and technical proficiency. We drowned our sorrows over the fall of belles lettres in large mugs of our favorite brew.
I love San Francisco Coffee’s Raspberry Mocha. The best talaga, ever!
This is a nice, quiet place with very good coffee and pleasant, accommodating baristas who let us stay a little past closing and said not a word, letting us leave when we were ready. I wish they had more branches around the city.
After Adelle and I exchanged goodbyes and promises to meet again soon, I trekked to Metrowalk for another reunion – this time with batchmates from the Ateneo de Manila University Regis MBA program. The invitation came from Atty. Natus Rodriguez, Atty. Noel de Leon, and Major Edmar de la Torre. How could I say no to two lawyers and a cop?
The venue was Aruba, a trendy bar-cum-dance club part-owned by Natus. It’s a terrific place that plays ’80s music, both live and canned. The crowd is upscale. Meaning they can headbang and respect personal space at the same time.
Natus ordered our party of ten his favorite drink. I forget what it’s called, but it’s served in shot glasses. A brown fluid lurks at the bottom while a milky liquid floats on top. Then it’s set on fire. Straws are handed round, the drink is sucked up, everyone applauds. It goes straight to your brain.
This time around, there isn’t much conversation, what with the loud music, dancing, and flaming drinks. Yet just seeing each other there was enough. Communication was achieved, the message being, “I cared enough to invite you/ I cared enough to come. We’re still friends.” We whisper into each other’s ears, catch up a bit, exchange phone numbers, find out how we can help each other.
But don’t wait until the holidays to refresh your relationships with your friends. Just like a plant, friendships can wither and die if not fed often with communication. Stay in touch. Make that your New Year’s resolution.