My first Chilean Christmas and definitely the most “Christmasy” one I have had in many years. Santiago does not particularly go all out to decorate the streets and shops for the Festive Season (apart from the Malls which I managed to successfully avoid), but various municipalities have different activities to celebrate Christmas.
One of the best activities for me was a free concert and show by the National Symphonic Orchestra and the Municipal Theatre in the Plaza de Armas in the centre of the city. They performed excerpts from various operas such as the Magic Flute, the Nutcracker and the Barber of Seville as well as Christmas carols. As someone who loves the theatre, but is not a particular fan of opera, these bite size chunks of various shows were really great. Plus they added extra quirks such as jugglers and acrobats and mime artists. The added bonus about the event being in the main plaza of the city (besides the wonderful backdrop of the cathedral and old buildings) was that it allowed many people, who would not normally be able to go, the chance to experience the theatre.
Besides, many other carol evenings which were held across different municipalities, another interesting event was a light show at the Municipality of Providencia. The office of the municipality is in a beautiful old “house” which in the 1930´s and 40´s was the palace of one of Santiago´s aristocratic families. Every evening they put on a light show which transformed the buildings into various different Christmas scenes.
With carols playing in the background, the buildings looking like scenes from Santa`s workshop at the North Pole, the trees all lit up and many children playing in the small plaza and fountain, it was impossible not to get into the Christmas spirit.
But for me, the most special part of Christmas, was spending Christmas Eve with Rodrigo`s family. Probably one of the main reasons it was so special was that it was the first Christmas in a long time where I have been around children.
How refreshing to see kids watching the sky the whole night, totally convinced that they had seen Rudolph and Santa.
Whilst the global world we live in means that cultures and traditions have become so mixed, there were some customs in the Chilean celebration that were a little different:
Being a very Catholic country, most people go to church on Christmas Eve and thus Christmas dinner only starts at about 10pm. The food is pretty much the same as in SA or elsewhere, but there is one specifically Chilean drink (Cola de mono – monkey´s tail) which is a bit different. I must say that after a few sips of this powerful cocktail (a combination of aguardiente which is a very powerful Chilean spirit, coffee, milk, sugar and cinnamon) I decided I would stick to pisco sours as my national drink of choice!
Then around midnight the fun starts…
first comes the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Most houses have a nativity scene, which I did not realise has no baby Jesus until Christmas. One of the kids then places the baby Jesus in the manger to celebrate his birth.
After that, it is off to hunt for Father Christmas (or Viejito Pascuero in Chile)…this involves walking around the block, bumping into many other families also on the lookout…every noise or movement, the kids are convinced it is Santa. Unfortunately, the hunt proves unsuccessful…
BUT, on returning to the house, it is discovered that Santa came while the kids were out and they just missed him…
and on the lawn there is a HUGE pile of presents that he left behind.
As you can imagine, in a family of over 30 people, chaos reigns…cheering, clapping and lots of fun while the designated Santa`s Helpers hand out the gifts. The garden was soon transformed into a colourful mess of wrapping paper, boxes, ribbon and plastic…
For me it was such a pleasure watching small kids waiting in anticipation for their names to be called out and the thrill of ripping off the paper as quickly as possible to see what Santa had bought them…
And suprisingly, he even found space in his huge bag of gifts for something for me!
But all too soon the pile of presents had disappeared and the wrappings had been cleared away. Then it was time to enjoy the new toys for some and for the rest of us to turn our attention to some very yummy Christmas desserts.
I couldn´t imagine a Christmas more different to the one I knew my parents were celebrating in South Africa. They spent the weekend with my aunt and uncle at one of my favourite places on earth, a quiet, beautiful game reserve run by a good friend of ours. Sitting at the chalet in Mankwe, overlooking the dam and watching the sunset seemed worlds apart from my experience here in Santiago. But you know what, as much as I miss family at times like this, I was surrounded by a huge, loving and very welcoming Chilean family who made my first Christmas here very special.
FELIZ NAVIDAD A TODOS MIS AMIGOS Y FAMILIA!!!