The book of tomorrow that we tried to peep into yesterday is now open with wonderful interesting combination 1-1-11. Having a birthday on January 1 was special to me, no matter that my father tried in vain to cut me down to size by saying that this was nothing special and it is only the Gregorian calendar.
Buddhist families are not tired after Christmas gift giving, so there were birthday presents. In the early years, when my Great-grandmother was alive my presents from the Panadura clan arrived by train. A huge woven reed box with all kinds of traditional goodies from the famed kitchen at Walauwa; a birthday dress from my Poddi — short for Poddi Amma, the small mother and my mother’s sister Irangani Fernando ( now Irnagani Soysa) and books from Honda Amma ( the good aunt , my mother’s cousin) Malini Wijesekera (later to be Malini Ransooriya), then the Vice Principal of my school Sri Sumangala Girls’ School in Panadura.
Usually by the first, all the birthday cards had arrived and only the ones who remembered last minute would send telegrams. There was excitement when we heard the postman’s bell when he delivered the telegrams and a bigger thrill if it was addressed to you. Today, it’s email, sms, e-greeting card although Tara my granddaughter singing Happy Birthday on Skype was a lovely present for the start of the year.
Then on 31st night we watched the sun go down and the fishermen put out the boats to sea. The twilight deepened gradually and the kerosene oil lamps from the boats became twinkling lights on the horizon – a photo that exists only in my mind now.
The celebrations next day were simple and woven into a family day– Kiribath –rice with coconut milk in the morning, sea baths and a special lunch of my favourite food. Maybe a boat ride on the river, if my father decided to go to our estate across the lotus filled lake. I’d get to wear my new dress and of course there was the joy of curling up on an easy chair on the back verandah to read the new book munching on the goodies from Panadura.
Then and now, first of January is a time when families trek to temples, Kovils and Churches and we seek the blessings of the gods and guidance in the New Year. If my birthday book present was a good read, which was usually the case, I’d refuse to go to temple, pleading that it was my birthday wish.