Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Paraguayan Christmas

Merry Christmas! It doesn’t feel like it though. Somehow the 40 degree weather and the lack of constant, in-your-face Christmas commercialism (which I’m sure exists in Asunción, but is limited out in the campo) did little to foster my Christmas spirit. Not to mention, k-chak-a Christmas songs didn’t enthuse me in the same way that Christmas carols usually do. It’s way too hot to be Christmas! Let alone no snow, there are no winter coats or gloves or ice-skating or bare trees or biting winds that make me want to run inside for a hot cup of cocoa or sit in front of a warm fireplace. It’s quite the reverse here, and I’ve actually spent the past few weeks trying to escape from the heat: turning the fan on full blast, lying outside in my hammock, sprawling on my bed below my hot tin roof and cursing the gods above for the miserable heat, running to the río every chance I get.

With all these weather distractions, Christmas snuck up on me this year. All of a sudden, it was Christmas Eve. I wanted to celebrate Christmas the traditional Paraguayan way, with a family, so I went to the house of mamá’s (my host mom from training) mother who lives a little outside of the capital to celebrate Christmas the traditional Paraguayan way. Christmas and New Year’s are opportunities for big family gatherings here. Usually families will spend one holiday with one set of parents, and the other holiday with the other set. The house was full of all 7 of mamá’s sisters, their husbands, and their kids. The custom is to stay up until midnight. So we spent the time chatting, chowing down on sopa paraguaya, and preparing clerico, the traditional drink of Christmas and New Year’s in Paraguay. Clerico is very similar to sangria, it’s a fruit salad with wine. The Paraguayans remove the skin and dice all sorts of fruits, squeezing the juice out and putting them into a bowl. They then add wine and soda and leave the concoction to marinate for a few hours. Our clerico consisted of the current seasonal fruits, pineapple, green and purple grapes, plums, peaches, mangos, apples, pears. The only thing we were missing was melon (not watermelon…Paraguayans believe that if you mix anything with watermelon, you’ll die. I’ve been attempted on more than one occasion to invite them over to my house for tereré and watermelon).

At 11:30, we finally commenced our feast with all the traditional Paraguayan foods: sopa paraguaya, chipa, chipaguazu, asado, ensalada de arroz, and tarta de verduras. The radio was playing in the background so that we would know when it was midnight. At midnight, we toasted with cider and soda. Everyone kissed me on the cheeks and wished me “Felicidades” like I was part of the family. I felt lucky to be a part of this family-oriented Christmas celebration. Then the really fun part began and the kids and I set off fireworks. We lit rockets and then ran, screaming, in the opposite direction. There were cries of “Nde rasore!” (darn/damn it!) as we threw mini sticks of dynamite and they jumped about, exploding near our feet. It was just like July 4th in the States.

Christmas morning, we had a breakfast of clerico (mamá had made me special clerico with just soda…even the kids will drink it with wine). Papá even added cider to his (there’s nothing like alcohol first thing in the morning!). We spent the day chilling in hammocks outside and drinking tereré. We napped, ate leftovers from the night before, napped some more, ate some more, and drank more cleric. There might not have been snow, and it have been hot as all hell, but it was a day with spent with family, eating, drinking, and sleeping, and for me, that’s what Christmas is all about!

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