Friday, December 7, 2012

Christmas has arrived to Colombia

Today was the official start of Christmas in Colombia and it definitely felt that way.

At my school, today was el día de fraternidad.  Every year in the first week of December the whole school is divided into groups and we travel throughout the city to visit homes for the elderly.  We spend a month collecting food and money to buy gifts that we then bring with us to share with the folks living in these homes.  We only spend about 3 hours at the homes, but the time is very special.  There are not really words to describe the beauty of children and elderly people singing, talking, laughing and interacting.  We share in a tradition of novenas and gozos, a series of prayers in songs (a week early).  Then the students pass around Christmas pictures and colored pencils for the elderly folks to color and make Christmas cards.  Some just want to talk, and there's a lot of that too.  Before we leave each person is given two gifts - a bag of Christmas cookies and a winter hat.  I didn't end up getting pictures of this because I was busy talking with the people in the home (I could actually communicate with them this year - very exciting!) and encouraging the students to initiate conversations.  My fifth graders were very nervous in the beginning but by the end of our time there had made some friends and were telling me all about the amazing people met and the stories they heard.  So special!

In the evening, my friend Natalia invited me to her house to light candles with her family.  The 7th of December is the official start of Christmas in Colombia.  On this night, families get together for dinner and to light candles outside their homes, in the windows, etc. to light the path for the Virgin Mary on her way to Bethlehem.  It is a beautiful tradition as it brings together the family and the community, as everyone is outside lighting candles.  It is also beautiful to see all the candles lit as you walk or drive down the streets throughout the city.  Additionally, there are fireworks.  It's a big deal.

I don't have official family here, which can be difficult especially on days like this one, but Natalia's family has been kind enough to adopt me.   We all helped Natalia to decorate her apartment for Christmas (many families wait until this day to decorate), we ate arepitas with hogao, and then we went outside, lit candles, said a prayer, and listened to some Christmas music.  Later in the evening, I rode with Natalia when she took her aunt and mother home.  The city was gorgeous and there was a peace that you could feel and see as families and in some cases neighborhoods were sitting outside together with candles lit.
Natis' Christmas tree

I made the bow for the door. :-)

Arepitas y velitas...Christmas begins Colombian-style!
I love traditions, as I mentioned in my Cookie Day post, and this tradition is one that I might have to continue whether I am in Colombia or not.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bringing a Tradition to Colombia

My family has always been big on traditions and Christmas time is loaded with them:  Christmas Eve pagaent when Bubba and I were younger, now the Candlelight Midnight Service; Opening stockings on Mom and Dad's bed before we go downstairs to open the gifts; Dad puts the lights on the tree, I make the bows for the tree; Dad makes the mashed potatoes; Mom always has ham roll-ups and a Christmas punch with ginger ale, orange juice and cranberry juice... the list goes on and for sure things change a bit here and there with time but one tradition that I have missed for many years has been the tradition of Cookie Day.

Since I can remember, my mom has hosted Cookie Day.  Two of her friends, Sara and Joanne,  and my mom each plan 3 - 5 cookie recipes.  They all congregate at my house and spend the day making their recipes.  At the end of the day the cookies are split among the three of them and everyone leaves with a whole lot of different kinds of cookies to share with holiday visitors and with friends and co-workers, teachers and family during the holiday season.  It is awesome.  It's a laid-back day with lots of catching up on the latest gossip and life stories and lots and lots of laughs as the individuals try out (and sometimes fail with) new recipes and problem solve around specific directions (for example, to crush candy canes is it best to drive over a bag of them several times with your car or smash them with a mallet?!).

Living in Colombia is wonderful.  Life is simpler.  But still, at times, I miss the traditions and the comfort of family and friends.  As with Thanksgiving, I decided that not being in the United States would no longer be an excuse for me to miss out on the things I love.  Sure, turnips and cranberry sauce are things I simply cannot get, but make time with friends a priority here and re-creating traditions can be done.  Today was a perfect example.


I hosted my very own Cookie Day with two of my friends, Tiffany and English-speaking friends.  We each agreed on making two recipes.  We started at noon and ended at 7:00 pm.  We had some successes and some recipes that we were less-than-psyched about but overall it was a success.  We got caught up on life, laughed as we listened to funny stories from each other (especially Tiffany who is currently processing a life transition from living the high-life to living....well, to living with a bit less stuff and a few more people....hehe).  We ordered pizza and took a short break to re-energize and then ended the day with at least 6 dozen cookies each.  AWESOME!


It is such a joy, knowing I have people in my life here in Colombia with whom I can re-create these traditions.  It was also really special to create this tradition here.  As far away from home as I am, this day helped me to realize just how connected I still am to life and family in the States and to think about how much of who I am is connected to all the experiences my family created for me growing up.  I am so blessed and so thankful for that.