Locus Focus: Take Hundert Zweiundzwanzig!
Until today, I hadn't realised how heavy this year's "Foreign Shores" settings have been. But yeah, a
(or how our son survived his birthday in Germany without it)
by Jack Catarata
"I want a lechon for my birthday," our son Martin told me and my wife one day. He was turning six in December that year and we asked him what he wished for his birthday. We arrived in Germany some months back from the Philippines and life was then a painstaking period of adjustment: establishing a home, building a new support system, and above all, looking for work.
For me and Martin there was this added burden of learning new ways of doing things. And what better way there is, to start acquainting ourselves with the new Kultur, than to know how we could celebrate his first birthday in our adopted country?
. . . my wife and I went back again to the drawing board. The problem was where on earth could we find lechon in the land known for sausages and sauerkraut . . . ?
Despite all the Filipinos who swear that their foreign friends and in-laws can't get enough of adobo and sinigang, I think Filipino food manages to be only marginally more popular on the international smorgasboard than German cuisine. As for whether they have anything else in common . . . well, when I was choosing which local German restaurant to celebrate a past birthday in, pretty much all the reviews of the one I picked compared the Bavarian Schweinshaxn to the Filipino crispy pata--the main difference being that the former is baked and the latter is deep fried. (Oh, so typical . . .) Had little Martin Cataratas asked his parents for a crispy pata birthday treat, this essay would have been a bit shorter. Not a lot shorter, though, because there is more to culture shock than just food.
I liked reading about the differences between children's birthday parties in the Philippines and those in Germany. Lots of sweeping generalisations, I'm sure--but even the most atypical celebration in one country would never be mistaken for a cultural expression of the other. The most unexpected snag, which dismayed even the open-minded Cataratas, was that if your son's birthday falls on 6 December, his celebration will have to take a back seat to the national tradition of Nikolausabend.
Just when the December babies were thinking, "Jedenfalls, wurde ich am Weihnachsten geboren!" (All the December babies, whether they Deutsch sprachen or not, know exactly what that means . . . And those who do understand German are welcome to correct all my grammar mistakes in the combox!)
After having the first six birthdays of your life observed by the entire town as a minor fiesta, having to share the spotlight with St. Nicholas (who is undoubtedly cooler than you) can be quite the letdown. Even if every loss comes with a gain, it takes time to pass from mourning to a more sober sort of rejoicing. And the heart longs for something familiar to ease the transition. In at least one case of a Filipino abroad, that something has been a suckling pig roasted over open coals. Ah, who are we to turn our pretentiously gourmet noses up at this?
To find out whether the Cataratas found a "German lechon" in time for their son's birthday, please consider entering my
Question of the Week: Have you ever experienced celebrating a familiar holiday or special occasion in another country?
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Image Source: A Taste of Home, edited by Edgar B. Maranan and Len S. Maranan-Goldstein