Christmas is over, finally… and thankfully. A northern gringa’s admittedly biased account of 15 sweltering Christmases in Chile.
Para Español, usa la herramienta de traducción a la derecha…
Caveat lector: I’m a northern gringa with dreams of a white Christmas who has spent the past 15 holiday seasons deep in the southern hemisphere. I admit it: I long to hear the crunch of the new fallen snow beneath my feet, the whizzing whirling tires of cars stuck in a drift, and the muted muffled hum of traffic on unplowed snow. I miss that oddly bright light that filters through my eyelids as I wake the morning after a heavy midnight
snowfall, and I yearn for the dazzling sparkle of snowflakes caught in the glow of the streetlights. I miss frosty toes and heavy boots and hand-knit mittens and the smell of wet wool and the sting of chilly cheeks that burn after coming indoors. I would gladly brush snow from windshields and shovel a (short) driveway to earn the right to smell–and eat–cookies fresh from the oven and sit by the fireplace long into the night with a good book or sharing a rich red wine while engaged in great conversation… but–alas–I digress. Christmas, in Chile, is in summer.
By now it is clear, you see, that I am certainly not the most objective person in the world to tell about the wonders of Chilean Christmas, but here’s my take on it… as objectively as I am capable.
Chileans celebrate “la Noche Buena” (the Good Night) on the night of the 24th, which is followed by an almost audible sigh of relief on the morning of the 25th once it is finally over. It marks the end of a month of way too many activities all jammed together for anyone to really enjoy any of them.
Yes, it’s the Scrooge in me coming out. And there’s more. I think it would be easier to handle if there were more holiday customs and traditions, but there really aren’t many it seems. Traditionally people set up a nativity scene and today many people also have a table top tree in the house (fresh cut trees are forbidden). Sure, there are lights spiraling up palm trees and draping big leafy trees in some sections of town. Some people seem to like playing Secret Santa (don’t get me going on that one!) and there’s Cola de Mono (yummy milk-based punch with a kick) and Pan de Pascua (Christmas bread), of course, but the overall feeling just seems pretty commercial.
Most people work til midday on the 24th, and then run out to finish their Christmas shopping (see the pictures of Providencia on the afternoon of the 24th). The traffic jams are phenomenal and you can count on a minimum of 45 minutes at any check-out counter in town (the nice thing is that stores wrap presents for you). Then it’s rush home to gather the family and make the mad dash to the extended family dinner and present-opening ceremony at midnight.
But then, as fast as it started, it’s all over. The 25th is the day after, much like New Year’s Day… Everything comes to a screeching halt, everyone kicks back a few notches, and Santiago becomes a wonderful place to be until March. (Note to travelers, early January is a good time to come!)
For a more romanticized version of a Chilean Christmas, check out: http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/intelligenttravel/2008/12/celebrating-the-season-santiag.html
Soon it will be New Year’s Eve, and that’s a whole different story. And even though I want a white Christmas, I really LOVE the green New Year’s… but that’s another tale to tell! (See New Years a la Chilena)