As background, I have a long-distance boyfriend/partner/marido/hombre/esposo/ch'mil whom I've not really mentioned on this blog. It's a confusing situation, but for the moment, it suffices to say that we spent Christmas Eve/Christmas Day with his family here in Guatemala and it was really great.
It was my first Christmas away from home, but it wasn't sad as I expected, just new. Here are some new traditions we got to try:
Christmas Eve Day, 9 am:
Woken up by the cat-scarf. This is a tradition we plan to replicate in the future.
10:30 am: We give the cat-scarf good-bye snuggles, and go off to begin the gluttony with a delicious brunch at a restaurant in a nearby city. Then we go in search of an elusive flower for boyfriend's mom's Christmas present. On the way, we walk through the market, which is an amazing and complete zoo.
1 pm: Lunch with boyfriend's family. Afterward we wash dishes, nap, and work on the computer, while I wrap a few presents.
4 pm: Family friends come to visit, and leave, and others come. The gluttony continues with tea, coffee, and rounds of spiced chocolate treats from Germany, plus US-style Christmas cookies we bought from a local bakery. At this point I've consumed in one day what in site I usually eat in three days.
7 pm: Mother-in-law and I go off to collect our Christmas tamales from her special supplier. It's freezing outside but I'm warmed by the boiling-hot tamales in my arms, and we admire the Christmas lights in the neighborhoods on our way home. Feels like Christmas.
The tamales come in two kinds: sweet with chocolate, and savory with raisins and red sweet pepper. Around 8 pm we eat dinner. Here are the tamales, or "paches" as they're called here:
11:00 pm: We light the Advent wreath and Christmas tree (German traditions), then sing some carols. Those Germans really know how to serenade their Christmas greenery. I mumble along and pretend to know the words. (I'm pro at this point with all that Mam practice.)
This was really different for me, but sort of liberating. At home everybody gets a LOT of presents, they go under the tree from Santa, and we open them on Christmas morning with stockings. At home we've "down-sized" since I was kid, but even last year seems quite extravagant comparatively.
I have a lot of dear childhood memories, but I admit I liked the one-present idea this year. It's fun to open something, but kind of seems totally besides the point. People in my site don't even really give Christmas presents, although kids might get some fruit or candy.
There is a bigger present coming, after all...
Waiting for baby Jesus to arrive (the fruit/moss/nativity under the tree is a Guate tradition).
Christmas morning, 12:00 am
The streets and skies erupt in pure pyrotechnic joy. For miles in every direction you can hear firework shells echoing in homage to baby Jesus, or perhaps simply in homage to the fact that Guatemalans just really love fireworks. After about five minutes the fireworks stop, and we give each other "the Christmas hug" (also a Guatemalan tradition). Then it's off to bed.
We roll out of bed, eat breakfast, and spend the morning relaxing. I'm content, but I do think of my mom's sticky buns!
Another round of fireworks. It's amazing how much Guatemalans love pyrotechnics.
We go out to eat for lunch, the big meal of the day. This was maybe the most different tradition for me-- I have never in my life gone out to eat on Christmas day, let alone for pizza! At home we usually eat a sandwich or cereal on our own for lunch on Christmas, then have appetizers and a big prepared dinner with the extended family in the evening.
Unlike at home in the US, Christmas is sort of winding down at this point, and we have another relaxed afternoon: we go for a walk, take a nap, fit in a Skype session with my fam and grandparents at home, and watch Andrea Bocelli's "My Christmas" video through dinner. (Not going to lie that I didn't love every second of it.)
Tamales, round two. We also eat a special German Christmas bread called stollen. (16% butter. yee-haw!)
My brother-in-law's baby Guatemalan fir made its debut this year. Public service announcement: The Guatemalan fir is an endangered species endemic to the Western Highlands, endangered precisely for its excellent Christmas-tree qualities, and its unfortunate propensity to drop seed only once every two years. (And in December, right around the time people would tend to cut them down - tough love, evolution, tough love.)
We capped off the day with an animated Christmas movie, then headed off to bed.
I really enjoyed Christmas this year, and not to sound corny, but I experienced first hand that it really is being with family and being part of their traditions that makes Christmas great, whether they're your traditions or not ! Less is where you are, what you eat, or what you receive...