Midnight meals & wishes under apples

Welcoming New Year with a 1am meal of `fritanga` (pork stew)

Welcoming the New Year with a 1.00AM meal of `fritanga` (pork stew)

Having spent eight of the past ten Christmases in a different continent than my immediate family, I was fairly unfazed about the prospect of spending Christmas solita in Bolivia.  I toyed with the idea of travelling, but after some drawn-out confusion about whether I had two days or two weeks of holiday, in the end I accepted an invitation to experience Christmas Paceño-style with a local family.

Traditions vary among families, but generally there is a late meal on Christmas Eve followed by gift-giving.  Households decorate with a tree and usually nativities too.  Christmas trees were adorned with cotton wool for snow, but outside it was hot and sunny in between frequent rainstorms.  The warmer climate added a strange feel to the festivities, not to mention the absence of working in retail for the first time in five years.  It certainly felt like a quieter, surreal Christmas on many levels.

We spun crackly old Latin American records – an eclectic mix of Bolivian Christmas carols, rousing Mexican folk songs and Puerto Rican pop.  Before midnight, we each wrote a wish on a scrap of paper and tucked it underneath a numbered apple, which I was instructed to take home and eat upon waking on Christmas morning.  When the clock chimed midnight on Christmas Eve, prayers were murmured, greetings exchanged and glasses clinked.  At around 12.30am, we finally sat down to eat (I was somewhat relieved I`d snacked beforehand).  The meal included turkey and stuffing, although this is not necessarily standard fare.

On Christmas Day, I enthusiastically sampled buñuelos (enormous deep-fried discs of dough) doused with honey and treacle-like cane sugar and accompanied by hot chocolate.  They were delicious and undoubtedly terrible for one`s cholestrol.  I immediately loved them.

Buñuelos - deep-fried doughy deliciousness

Buñuelos – deep-fried doughy deliciousness

The largest nativity set I have ever seen

The largest nativity set I have ever seen

Wishes under apples

Wishes under apples

Xmas Eve vinyl fun

Xmas Eve vinyl fun

More vinyl fun

More vinyl

Fun fact: At some point, Ricky Martin was a member of this rather greasy-looking band

Fun fact: Ricky Martin was once a member of this rather greasy-looking band

New Year`s Eve is customarily celebrated with a family meal (pork to signify prosperity and abundance) which also takes place after midnight.  Following the meal, many people head out to dance and drink the night away.  As it turns out, I found eating a 1am heavy meal of fritanga (spicy pork stew) with potatoes and corn more conducive to sleeping than hitting the clubs and was content to be in bed by 3am – pitifully early by Bolivian standards.

Bemused to see the local markets overflowing with bright red and yellow underwear for sale, I have since discovered that it is common to wear coloured underwear on December 31st – red for love and yellow for wealth.  Who knew…  I suppose I`ll have to wait another year to test that theory.

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!  Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2013!

We lit coloured candles on NYE and received small red bags for good luck

We lit coloured candles on NYE and received small red bags for good luck

The gift bags contained a US dollar and a cinnamon stick tied with metal coins.

The gift bags contained a US dollar and a cinnamon stick tied with metal coins.

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An unforgettable Christmas surprise

My Christmas `bolsita`

My Christmas `bolsita`

Upon leaving work last Friday evening, my boss Gustavo informed me there was a bolsita (little bag) waiting for me, a staff Christmas gift.  I was amazed to discover that the `little bag` was absolutely enormous and too heavy for me to lift, let alone carry home.  I had to make the 5 minute journey by car and ask two people to help haul it up the stairs to my room.  I unzipped the bag to take a peek, noticing a panettone and a box of tea on top and then hurried out for the evening.  The next morning was gloriously sunny and I headed out early to explore one of La Paz`s many markets.  This meant I didn`t get around to opening the bag until mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Marvelling at the generous gift, I savoured unpacking everything from butter to rice to vegetable oil.  As I did so, I detected a distinctly unpleasant smell emanating from the depths of the bag.  Suspecting some fruit had got squashed and was perhaps beginning to rot, I cautiously continued, discovering to my dismay that fluid had leaked onto the bags of sugar and rice.  Pondering the existence of a Bolivian equivalent of durian (a South East Asian strong-smelling fruit – the odour of which I recently heard described as `hot vomit` – though my mum will disagree), I finally uncovered a knotted plastic bag, dripping fluid and stinking terribly.  Upon opening it, I was astounded to encounter the source of the stench: a chicken.  An unsealed, uncooked chicken.  Plucked, with its head still attached and its innards and severed feet tucked neatly alongside it in the bag.

To say I was not expecting an uncooked chicken as a Christmas gift, would be an understatement.  I have since discovered that it is customary in the workplace (though apparently the chickens tend to be frozen, in sealed packages or come with some kind of warning).  Hindsight may be everything, but the experience certainly provided me with some Christmas cheer.

The contents of my Christmas bolsita were as follows:

– 1 x chicken
– 1 x packet of salted butter
– 1 x 5kg bag of sugar
– 1 x 5kg bag of rice
– 1 x 2L bottle of vegetable oil
– 1 x tin of condensed milk
– 1 x tin of peaches
– 1 x packet of pasta
– 1 x bottle of hand soap
– 1 x bottle of dish-washing liquid
– 1 x box of cookies
– 1 x panettone
– 1 x bar of turrón (nougat)
– 1 x bag of strawberry sweets
– 1 x bottle of Bolivian wine
– 1 x bumper box of cinnamon and clove tea
– 3 x fruit-flavoured yoghurt drinks
– 1 x bottle of fruit juice
– 1 x packet of orange-flavoured jelly mix

Happy Holidays, dear readers! x

My Christmas chicken

My Christmas chicken

Gifts galore

Gifts galore