How do you celebrate the holidays?
There are so many different ways that we celebrate at the end of a calendar year, whether it’s unwrapping presents under a tree, eating delicious food, making resolutions, or simply spending time with our loved ones. And every family has its own traditions that represent an intersection between the ancestral heritage, religion, places, and rituals that’s connected to those who join together to celebrate.
For two years, I lived abroad in Paraguay in a small rural community. I wasn’t able to come home for Christmas, but my Paraguayan family and friends made those days some of the most memorable Christmases to date. Plus I got to learn how Christmas is celebrated in Paraguay!
I was invited to my friend Arminda’s house, who’s birthday happens to be on Christmas Eve. The big event surrounding is actually Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena in Spanish. On this particular night, it was exceptionally hot. We sat outside in wooden chairs under the stars, in front of a fan, sipping cold terere (Paraguayan tea), and sweating uncomfortably. It was after 10pm. The neighborhood kids ran around setting off bombas (bang snaps) and lighting steel wool on fire to make a fireworks-like effect. It was sweltering.
Arminda is one of 9 children in her family, and we were lucky that several of her siblings who live in Buenos Aires or Asunción were able to visit! The month of December is often marked by out-of-town visitors – sons and daughters of my neighbors who had moved to the bigger Paraguayan cities (Asunción or Ciudad del Este) or abroad to places such as Argentina or Spain.
As for most occasions, Arminda’s family prepared a big barbeque or asado. Heaps of marinated beef, chicken, and pork were slow cooked in their brick oven for hours in preparation. They also load up on the traditional sides, especially sopa, a dry cornbread. And we chopped fresh fruit to mix with wine to make a delicious beverage called clérico, similar to sangria. The asado was served exactly at midnight to ring in Christmas day, After eating, we stayed up until the wee hours of the night talking, drinking clérico, and laughing.
Christmas day is calmer as people sleep in after the long night. It gave me some time to visit other neighbors. One of my favorite parts was seeing the many approaches to the Nativity scene that families created in their homes. Constructed from items as varied as tree branches, tinsel, candy, pinecones, fruit, chipa, ornaments, and figurines, these crèches are next level. Everything is fair game. Your stuffed teddy bear? Why not! A plate of apples? The more the merrier! It’s all in celebration of Jesus. Not only does it push creativity to the limit, but visitors all leave with a treat. They’ll snip off a chipa or a string of candy from the tree and give it to you as a gesture of goodwill.
I hope you are enjoying this special holiday season with your loved ones! Merry Christmas!