I have never spent Christmas away from my family. Until now.
It’s been coming upon us for weeks now. I’ve taught small children Christmas carols and had my photo taken in a stupid Santa hat. I’ve sat with friends preparing traditional Venezuelan Christmas food – a ‘mais’ pastry filled with everything but the kitchen sink and boiled wrapped in a banana leaf. And with my housemate, I’ve made origami stars and storks. Like the Christmas stork that brought Jesus to the world amid a night of brilliant stars… or something like that.
And my mood goes up and down. I have an injury to my left shoulder and a stabbing pain which makes me mardy, and if I were at home I’d be pouting and stamping and causing a right fuss, and I’d be laughing and leaping and causing mayhem, but here is not there and as much as I am at home here, it’s summer and Christmas is mid-winter and I am ill at ease with the gods changing the seasons like this.
I tried to explain why Christmas feels so wrong here. First, there are the songs, playing in the supermarkets, which with a something like 3% of the population in La Serena being at a decent level of English are unlikely to be understood by anyone. Second, there’s a colour scheme problem. Christmas, as a winter festival, is done in winter colours: forest green, deep crimson. This is aesthetically weird placed in the middle of a city which is sunny year-round. I’m not saying Chileans should skip Christmas, I’m saying enjoy Christmas but do it in a Chilean fashion. Or go traditional and put Mary in a beautiful blue dress and have wise men arriving on camels from the desert. We do have a desert. Third, people here are stretched for cash and watching the shops mount up with plastic crap makes me want to scream.
But all this is making me think, what is the point of Christmas? And it’s not meant as a cynical question. Festivals do matter. They’re a time for people to step out of the routine and think a little differently, treat themselves to something nice, celebrate being alive, together.
Mine this year will be a bit strange. I’m going to miss home more this week than usual. It’s a quarter of the planet away.