Remember those days when you had no responsibilities? When you could eat anything you wanted without concerns, or when your biggest worry was if you were going to miss your favourite tune on the radio? I want to take you back to that era and show you my favourite holiday in my home country.
The Chilean summer starts mid-November and so does the tree hunting season. Christmas is a very cherished time for us and we make the most of it. Unlike New Zealand, we don’t get three weeks off work. Christmas Eve, we usually work until 3pm, then rush home to prepare dinner and wrap gifts. We get the next day off, then on the 26th life goes back to normal.
Every household has their own festive style and traditions, there is no right or wrong way to celebrate. My favourite memories are from growing up in the 90s, still naive enough to believe in magic.
My grandparents’ house was the Christmas HQ, with all the relatives descending for dinner, which would be served 9.30pm. The menu was always the same: stuffed turkey (it would take a whole day to prepare and roast), duchess potatoes, salad, and chocolate ice cream for dessert. The adults would also share some Cola de Mono (Monkey’s tale), an alcoholic drink made with milk, coffee, sugar, cinnamon and brandy.
Once everyone finished, some families went to church while others stayed at home waiting to exchange presents at midnight. Just before then, we used to walk around the neighbourhood trying to spot Santa flying across the night sky. We would yell, “Where are you? We have milk and cookies for you!” Suddenly, my dad would get a call from Santa confirming that he was home, ready to give us our gifts. Overjoyed, we ran back to the house as fast as we could.
It was so amazing to see this man, coming all the way from the North Pole, just to hang out with us. He was real, I could touch his beard. I could see him standing next to a tree with a sackful of presents. I always wondered how he got my parents’ phone number or how he could make time to stay with my cousins and I when there were so many other kids around the world hoping to get a visit from him. Some families hire people to dress up as Santa, but in mine, it was always my grandad’s job. When it was time for Santa to leave, it was time for us to go home. The next day was dedicated to playing with new toys and calling school friends to compare presents and show off a little bit, if you got the latest Barbie doll or the newest VHS movie.
In the 90s, it was all about neon, Sailor Moon, Barbies, Disney movies and cassettes. Britney was the supreme idol and you definitely dreamed about dating one of the Backstreet Boys. One Christmas, I received a CD Walkman, something like an iPod these days, and I felt like a queen.
Nowadays we are all grown up and there are no more kids in my family. We’ve decided to step away from tradition and avoid any kind of stress and holiday fever. We just eat whatever we feel like that day, unless I plan a menu and cook for my closest family; then exchange meaningful presents on the morning of the 25th, then in the afternoon have lunch with the rest of the family, typically an asado, our way of making barbecue. Contrary to what you see on TV ads, movies and snowy postcards, Christmas in South America is all about the sun, celebrating with lots of food and embracing time with your loved ones.