Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas in El Tabo, Part I: Christmas Eve

Last Christmas was very different than any other I'd ever spent before.  Last Christmas I spent in El Tabo. "Where is El Tabo?" you may ask. Well, until this time last year I'd never heard of it either. You see, El Tabo is a town on the west coast of Chile and that's where I spent a Christmas I won't soon forget.

I'd only been in Chile for about a day and a half when it came time to celebrate Christmas.  Both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were going to be spent at my friend Jorge's mom's house up on the hillside from where he and Rodrigo lived.  I'm usually a shy person, so it takes me awhile to warm up and feel comfortable, but that really wasn't the case with Jorge's family.  

Mama and me

We were expected at his mom's house at 10 on Christmas Eve.  During the afternoon, we had stopped off at the market for some soda and potatoes to bring to his mom's for dinner, so I got to meet her beforehand. (She looked exactly like Jorge if he were a woman, lol.)

The house is located in the countryside, totally isolated and with dirt roads, horses and sheep, and lots of land.  A white picket fence surrounds the front yard of mama's house on three sides, and a large vegetable garden lies to the left of the house, next to where a single horse and a sheep hung out. A Christmas tree adorned the living room and other decorations were scattered here and there like anyplace else.

Like any typical mom, Jorge's mother offered us some food and drink.  The food was a fresh baked fruit cake, much like an Italian Panettone, and the drink was comparable to egg nog, and it was homemade, too. Delish!  After the quick bite, Jorge and I were off to get some last minute things before we returned to mama's later that evening.

We got to mama's house a little after ten.  There would be eight of us altogether: mama, Jorge, Rodrigo, me, Rodrigo's brother, Jorge's two sisters Erika and Maria Eugenia and Jorge's niece Massael. The first thing I did when I got there was greet Jorge's mom with a kiss and a Feliz Navidad, but I was corrected.

No es la Navidad hasta los doce!

Okay then...

Within minutes, the rest of the family arrived and I was as apprehensive about meeting them as they were about meeting me.  I was also a little intimidated by the Spanish, as there were seven of them and only one of me, but I held my own I think.  Within only a few minutes we were all chatting like old friends.

Christmas Eve dinner consisted of some chicken and beef, with a traditional Chilean salad of tomatoes and onions, string beans, bread, rice and potato salad,  I have to admit that it was much more enjoyable than the fish I'm usually forced to eat on the holiday.  After dinner, everyone adjourned to the living room for some chit chat while they waited for midnight to arrive.  That's when they opened their gifts.

I hadn't expected anything, so when Jorge, Rodrigo and mama passed me some presents with my name on it, I was both surprised and humbled.  Mama gave me a nice bottle of wine (Chilean, of course!), Jorge a dirty, dirty Chilean 'toy', and Rodrigo a beautiful, authentic Mapuche llama's wool jacket.  (Mapuche is the name given to the indigenous native Americans from the area.)  Very cool!

Rocking my Mapuche jacket

As with any other family, the one who made out like a bandit was Massael, the only child in the group.  Among other things, she got an art set, a Chilean version of Monopoly, games, a puzzle,, and a mini-tablet.  WLike with any other child, watching her open her gifts was adorable!

Overall, last Christmas Eve was enjoyable.  Jorge's whole family was very warm and welcoming, and the language gap didn't mean a thing.  Even the little one, who's relationship with Jorge is cold and sarcastic on the outside, but very loving deep down, warmed up to me eventually.  By the time we returned to Jorge and Rodrigo's, it was already well after two, but we chit-chatted and drank wine until the wee hours.  I went to bed that night with a warm heart and a big smile!

To be continued...

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