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.
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!