Christmas in Chile is not ChillyThe other day I was in a supermarket in Santiago, Chile, where I’ve been living for the past two years. As I was perusing the yogurt, I realized I was humming along to the song playing over the sound system: a Spanish version of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” I snorted and thought to myself “Well, dream on, because that’s not going to be happening any time soon!” For the vast majority of the residents of the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas never has been and never will be white. Nor will it be cold. Instead of snuggling up next to the fire place, sipping hot cocoa and trying to stay warm, people plug in the fan, head to the beach and pour themselves a cool drink.
That being said, even though the Holiday Season here in Chile is HOT, it’s still just as important to Chileans as it is to people from the Northern Hemisphere. It’s hard to explain the importance of Christmas without explaining the importance of the Chilean family. In Chile, family is everything. It’s people’s main social network of friendship and support. In rare cases do family members move far away from home, and children live with their parents for much longer than is custom in the United States. I have 30-something friends who for various reasons still live with their parents. It’s weird that I, at 24, have my own apartment.
Christmas is probably the most important holiday spent with the family. Because Chileans don’t have Thanksgiving, it is THE holiday to get together and celebrate with their relatives. The other major holidays here, the National Holidays (in September) and New Year’s Eve are also celebrated with the family, but most people then leave to go party with friends until the wee hours of the morning (I’m talking about until 8:00am or even later!)
Christmas is celebrated on the 24th, called Nochebuena (good night). Chilean families gather for dinner sometime around 9 or 10 pm. Then they might go to a Christmas mass. At midnight, the viejito pascuero (Santa Claus) comes and then children immediately open presents. This poses a unique problem for “Santa Claus” to deliver the gifts without the children seeing him. But somehow, it always works out. Then everyone exchanges gifts, and probably won’t go to bed until early in the morning. Christmas day is more relaxed, and one friend explained to me that it was a day for kids (and kids at heart) to play with all of their new toys.
Chileans normally eat turkey on Christmas Eve and almost every supermarket chain is advertising specials on turkey, similar to in the US before Thanksgiving. Other traditional Christmas foods include cola de mono (monkey’s tail) which is a sweet alcoholic drink made from milk, coffee, sugar, spices and aguardiente, a hard alcohol distilled from grapes. It tastes somewhat like Bailey’s Irish Cream. Pan de Pascua (Christmas bread) is similar to fruitcake except has less candied fruit and is round.
Although Christmas in Chile isn’t so different from Christmas in the U.S., I’m glad to be boarding a plane on Thursday to spend it in Vermont, hopefully with snow, and most importantly, with my family.