This was our first Christmas season abroad. It was more Christmasy in many ways than it is for us Stateside. Let me explain why.
For an untold number of years my husband's various jobs have kept him from being with us for either Christmas Eve or Christmas day. This year, he was able to join us for both days and all the parties surrounding it. I have gone to Christmas parties in the past without him and hated it. We had two Christmas parties to attend this year. Both had copious amounts of food, singing of carols and a gift exchange. Though they are expensive and uncommon here, both events also featured turkey as the centerpiece, which warmed my dark-meat loving heart! I was also able to feast on the holiday standbys of cranberry sauce, cranberry cake, stuffing, potatoes, gravy and veggies of all kinds. The cinnamon and cumin rice was probably the most unusual dish I had.
Shopping for gifts was different this year. I usually order all the gifts that I can online and get most of the rest from Black Friday sales. This year, I had to go to multiple stores. The Safeway (yes, we have one here, though it's different) was my main stop for presents. The kids got multiple boxes of American cereal. Jason got cereal, corn chips and salsa. Everyone was given American candies that they missed. Many other items (clothes, toys) were bought at the Friday market. The Friday Market is where out of date brand name clothes/shoes come to die. If you're willing to dig through the stalls of small toys you can find some good one for kids as well.
Our wrapping paper this year was cereal boxes wrapped in black plastic bags. I had neither the time nor the know-how to track down wrapping paper this year, so we used what we had. No one minded.
I'm sure some of you assume that the country doesn't celebrate Christmas, but that's far from accurate. Due to the ethnic, indigenous Christian communities and all of the expats, there are Christmas items for sale everywhere starting at the beginning of December. In the more Western parts of the city you can even see small light displays on some balconies. We could find all the trimmings for Christmas we could possibly want, but the prices were pretty ridiculous on some items. Candy canes aren't common here and are 4-5 times as expensive as in the states.
We attending an impossibly long kid's pageant program at our local church. It had all the proud parents with cameras, squirmy little angels and wandering shepherds that any Stateside pageant could hope for.
The government declared Christmas a national holiday this year in the country, so everyone had
the day off. This is one practice that I love about this culture, they actually rest on their holidays and weekends. Back in the States, the weekends and holidays seem to blend easily into the craziness of every other day. I hate that we seem to have done away with the day of rest in the States. But, every Saturday and holiday here has been about relaxing with family and taking a break from the normal activities. Waking up to quiet streets in this big city is such a nice break.
Back in the States I would bake desserts and deliver them to the neighbors, a personal tradition I continued here. My Muslim neighbors kindly took my treats and brought me inside for a chat before sending me home with cookies or fruit in return. Any "quick" visit in this culture will likely take you more than a 1/2 hour.
Between the parties attended, the soba propane fire burning and the cereal box presents opened, this has been an excellent first foreign Christmas experience.