Colombia

3,2,1…Feliz Navidad!

It was 10pm and we were just getting picked up to go to Santiago’s uncle’s house for the Christmas celebration. I hopped in the car eager to see what the night would entail. The streets were empty, Christmas lights lined the streets, and there was not a soul to be seen. Traditional Colombian Christmas music was playing from the radio, which is referred to as “diciembre” or december, since it is played the whole month of December. It’s very lively music for celebrating, sometimes with an accordion, people cheering “ahhh-yyyahh-yahh”deep from the heart, or sirens playing in the background. As I sat in the backseat with my fingers laced in each other, I was starting to realize that it wasn’t going to be such a Silent Night.

At his uncle’s house, as we started to stack the presents by the fireplace, I couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a Christmas tree. While I didn’t want to feel like a superficial Christmas lover, who comes from a world of real Christmas trees, santas, and advent calendars, I couldn’t help but feel a piece of the Christmas spirit wasn’t there to greet me.

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We began the pre-Christmas festivities with some wine and drinks, along with some appetizers including chorizos, pastels (croissant-like with meat inside), an entire pork thigh (cut into little slivers), and chocolate covered pecans brought from chez-moi in SC (which were a huge hit!).

Christmas began at 12am – the real start to Christmas day. While listening the radio, playing more of their traditional Christmas music, the countdown to Christmas began, 10…9…8…

I felt as if I somehow skipped to the New Year’s party, counting down the seconds to the celebrated day. Everyone was around the living room and dining area, and when the clock struck 12, the family was hugging and wishing one another a “feliz navidad”.

Once Christmas had officially begun, the tamales were starting to be cooked. Tamals are these delicious things wrapped in banana leafs…and no, you don’t eat the banana leaf. Inside is corn meal mush with chicken, pork, or some sort of meat, with peas. They are typical on Christmas and are a breakfast food that has been around for hundreds of years. The food is also usually eaten with Chocolate, which is the Colombian version of our hot chocolate. Que decilia! How delicious!

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Post-dinner the gift’s part of the night kicked off. We all gathered upstairs by the fireplace to see what everyone brought for each other. And when I said everyone bought presents for everyone, I mean it. As there were about 30 people there, I would put the gift count at around 400 (30 times 30 is 900, but I am taking into account that not everyone including me bought presents for everyone).

The uncle, who’s house we were at, began reading and handing out the gifts from the overflowing fireplace. “Para Claudia, de Miriam”…”Para Dario, de Juan David”…”Para Allison, de Margarita”. Me…Someone bought a present for me?

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I turned red as a tomato, as I didn’t know what to say other than, “Muchas gracias! Muy amable!”, saying my thanks and trying not to draw any attention to myself. And to my continued surprise, most of Santiago’s aunts and uncles, parents, and brother gave me presents, and every time my name was called everyone cheered, as if I were no less a part of the family than anyone else.

It was 4am and the gifting had finally ended, and from what I heard, that was on the earlier side since most of the young kids couldn’t keep their eyes awake long enough for presents time this year. Everyone sat with their own mega-sized shopping bag filled with gifts, laughing, smiling, and gracious for the joy of Christmas.

After 4am, we sat around talking, snacking (as there was still a lot of food) and dozing off (well mainly just me…). As I sat downstairs in the dining area, we started our goodbyes with the families with young kids, as the parents draped their children over their shoulders like santa with a sack full of presents.

It was then 4:30am when we decided to go. We collected our gifts and received a “little” care package of food to take home… 2 tamales, 10 pastels, 2 chorizos, 10 thin slices of pork, and 3 pieces of a milk-like cake that everyone was too full to eat.

By 5:30am as sugar plums still danced in my head, I was laying my head down to sleep, just as the sun was starting up over the sky on Christmas day. It was a marvelous whirl-wind of festivities. Filled with love, joy, laughter, and family. While I wasn’t with my real family, I am thankful to have realized that I now have a second family who I love and love me back too.

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As we go into the new year, I hope we can all remember the importance of family and memories we can build together, and not just in the holiday season. Life is too short and the moments to quick for us to forget to love and be gracious for one another.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

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