For the first time in my life, I celebrated this past Christmas outside of the United States and without my family. Hands down, my family’s favorite holiday is Christmas, and it can’t come fast enough for my Dad. Usually the day after Thanksgiving we get our Christmas tree, and our house is suddenly glittering with decorations. My Mom pulls out our advent calendar, and my Dad marks down the days to Christmas by blasting Christmas tunes throughout the house and teasing all of his children about the amazing gifts he got us. It’s a very special holiday for us, and even though I’ve traveled non-stop for the past 5 years, my Dad has always ensured that I come home for Christmas.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards for me to make it back to the States this Christmas, so for the first (and most likely last) time in my life, I spent Christmas outside of the US. What better place to spend Christmas than in my second home, Paraguay? While on one hand it was sad to not be there with my family and celebrate our traditions, I got TWO Christmases for the price of one: a Paraguayan Christmas on the 24th, and then an American Christmas on the 25th. Both of these events ended up being some of my best times down here in Paraguay. Nothing is better than celebrating with the people you love, no matter where you are!
If I could describe this Christmas in one word, I would say it was unforgettable. Here’s to my first Paraguayan Christmas.
The FIRST Christmas- the 24th- I spent with my two best Paraguayan friends Liz and Dennis, who invited me to spend the holidays at their family’s house. Dennis picked me up in his car at about 8 PM on Christmas Eve, and we drove to Liz’s house to find about 20 people sitting on chairs outside on her patio. I sang ‘FELIZ NAVIDAD!’ (“Merry Christmas!”) as we pulled up, only to realize that they were all in the middle of prayer. Whoops.
This is a Paraguayan ‘nativity scene,’ which is very popular here. Almost every Paraguayan family has one outside of their house during Christmas. They decorate the nativity scene with Chipa (a traditional Paraguayan delicacy), cookies, Christmas lights, fruit, and the Baby Jesus!
Christmas in Paraguay is sort of celebrated like New Year’s is in the United States- on the evening of the 24th friends and family gather together for a big party and count down until midnight. So in typical Paraguayan style, we sat around on lawn chairs for a few hours drinking ‘vin-cola’ (Wine and Coke, a staple Paraguayan beverage) with all of Liz’s cousins and aunts and uncles, and counting down the minutes. I cracked jokes with Dennis and Liz (while Liz laughed repeatedly about me singing ‘Feliz Navidad!’) and drank a little too much cider. At about 11 PM Liz’s family pulled out chairs and tables to set up for the big Christmas feast, which consisted of typical Paraguayan ‘carne asado’ (grilled meat), ChipaGuazu (my favorite!), potato salad, and mandioca (a staple root vegetable, served cold and with meat). As I dined on roasted pig and beef we watched kids hurl fireworks at each other throughout the neighborhood, disregarding any sort of safety hazard per usual.
Liz’s entire family preparing to eat a delicious Christmas dinner!
Liz passing the carne asado to Dennis
Dennis getting ready to shove a huge piece of meat into his mouth
At 11:55 PM Liz poured champagne into glasses and we counted down to midnight on her phone. Once midnight struck everyone yelled ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS!’ and toasted. I was then hugged and kissed by every Paraguayan on the patio while neighbors lit off fireworks.
Liz giving the toast!
The Christmas tradition in Paraguay is that the children leave their wish lists next to the nativity scene on December 24th. This is the letter that Sofia, Liz’s niece, wrote.
Liz putting Sofia’s letter next to their family’s nativity scene.
‘Papa Noel’ (Santa) brings you your gifts at exactly midnight, and they ‘appear’ as everyone is toasting! All of the kids get to open their gifts and celebrate. Here is Sofia with a giant happy face because Santa brought her a kiddie pool to swim in during the summer!
After Papa Noel brought his gifts (including some gifts from the United States for Dennis and Liz!) we continued drinking, chatting, playing card games, and I even learned some choice curse words in Guaraní. We finally went to bed at Liz’s house at about 3 AM (but not before my parents called to read to me ‘The Night Before Christmas!’ So sweet!)
Dennis and his Dad
It was definitely a lovely and memorable Christmas Eve in Paraguay! Even though I didn’t spend Christmas with my family, it was a lot of fun to see the tradition of Christmas down in Paraguay and celebrate with two people who I care about so much in my site.
Stay tuned tomorrow for updates on the SECOND part of Christmas, which was where the real fun began.
Merry Day After Christmas!
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