I’ve now been at my site here in Capilla Cue, Paraguay for just over 3 weeks and I’m starting to feel much more settled in. I will be moving into my own home sometime between February and March if all goes to plan but for now I am living with the Paredes Family. I also celebrated both Christmas and New Years with this family of too many to count. Here’s a recap for you all of what my first Christmas away from home and more specifically in Paraguay entailed.
New Years meets 4th of July If I was to describe Christmas in Paraguay in the simplest terms possible for fellow Americans to understand I’d have to say “New Years meets 4th of July.”
New Years because here everyone gets all dressed up and waits until midnight to welcome the holiday with a midnight feast of at least 3 different types of meat (beef, chicken and pork) and plenty of chipa guasu, sopa paraguaya and cider to go around.
4th of July because it’s summer here! And the number one drink of the season here is Clerico, basically a drinkable fruit salad of finally diced up bananas, melon, apples, pineapples and grapes in a juice and sometimes with wine added, though not in this house because there are too many kids around. Even more 4th of July“y” is the fact that just about every kid in town and probably in this entire country have been setting off fireworks (mostly just the noisemakers but every once a few roman candles and sparklers too) since the start of the season with the culmination of the display and noise being Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.
Pan Dulce A blog post on Christmas in Paraguay would be incomplete without mentioning this classic tradition. Though few people here, myself included, know where the tradition comes from, the obviously dubbed commercials suggest a non-Spanish speaking country. Anyone know? Basically Pan Dulce or “sweet bread” is a loaf of spongy and sweet bread flavored with a hint of whiskey and some other special ingredients including chunks of raisins, colored fruit flavored gelatin pieces and sometimes chocolate and/or nuts. Basically it’s delicious and it serves as a welcome break from the usual smaller and harder bread/cookie pieces that accompany my hot glass of milk each morning. And just FYI, homemade Pan Dulce is the BEST. My host mom here made over 6 loaves for the family and I shamelessly helped consume a large chunk of them.
My contribution My contribution to the host family’s holiday food preparation were some apple and cinnamon empanadas, also used as a way to introduce more fruit into a carb and meat loaded diet, as well as some less healthy but arguably more delicious snowballs, butterballs, Mexican Wedding Cakes or whatever name you have to describe those little balls of flour, butter and nuts and covered like a snowball in powdered white sugar. Needless to say the two were huge hits and since then I’ve also made carrot cake for the host fam with carrots from their garden. I hope to continue the cooking spree with a particular focus on healthy, veggie and fruit loaded options as many people here suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, or just as likely both. If you have any good recipes please send them my way!
Pesebre vivienta (living nativity) The living nativity that we observed right before the Thursday before Christmas mass brought back memories of the elementary school Christmas plays I had been apart of throughout the years. See the photos.
Pesebre Casero (homemade nativity) Even more unique was the tradition that most families here have of making their own homemade pesebre with local plants and dug up grass. See the photos. And while my host family was working on their pesebre, I introduced light art, using my camera, to the grandchildren of the family. Check out the results! And by the way, I just want to say thank you to Doug, Stuart and Charlie for teaching me how to do this last year.
Holiday Entertainment from the States With many of the popular Paraguayan game shows like Yingo, Calle 7 and Baila Conmigo Paraguay concluding with their season finales TV channels began airing a few random American holiday films and specials dubbed over in Spanish. They showed a few good ones like National Lampoon’s Christmas, Home Alone (all 4 in fact though the fourth is definitely not worthy to share the title) and also the Shrek and Madagascar Christmas specials which I definitely had enough of after the 3rd, 4th, I dunno kinda lost count, time they replayed leading up to the 25th and lasting until New Years Day.
Balnearios My host community, Capilla Cue, is centered in the department of Cordillera which is know for its picturesque creeks and the accompanying Balnearios where people come from all over the country on weekends to swim, sunbathe, play in the sand and relax. Christmas and New Years must be the most popular days to visit as I learned when we visited one balneario, El Bosque “The Forest,” on Christmas Day and found a crowded scene of people dancing, swimming and playing volley ball. Though I didn’t personally visit any balnearios on New Years, the tell tale sign of hundreds of cars, motos, and jam packed public busses passing along the main road in front of my host family’s house lead me to believe that New Year’s has got to be their busiest day.
Christmas Music I’m a big fan of Christmas music as a means to get into the Holiday spirit but apart from a few English Christmas songs playing in the background of some seasonal political ads and Paraguayan game shows this tradition has not yet caught on here. The music on the radio stayed the same throughout the season and even the pre-Christmas church service lacked the traditional “silent night” or “joy to the world.”
Christmas Gifts As far as gifts go, only one, a Little Tikes city play set, was given to one of the grandchildren. Here gift giving at Christmas just isn’t a custom though I’ve heard the younger kids are still waiting on the 3 kings to arrive…
Malls As we sworn in as volunteers at the beginning of December and had a nice weekend vacation in the capitol before heading up to our site I had the privilege of checking out the mall scene in the capitol. The experience was honestly quite overwhelming as malls here are almost identical to malls in the states and in preparation for the season of commercialization they were covered with holiday décor, lights and more.
Doggy Firefighter One of the true highlights of my New Year’s Eve in Paraguay was watching my host family’s very own Doggy Firefighter, named Tiger, jump to the scene and put out every shining sparkler the family lit. I really I wish I had my camera with me as I’m sure “Doggy Firefighter” would’ve been an instant youtube hit.
Family While all the holiday films and Christmas music from the States talk about family, often times the idea gets lost amongst the lights and décor. Here in Paraguay with less music and gifts to interfere it helped clear up what Christmas really is all about. While my host family had put up a small artificial tree and some colored lights on the house the real thing that made me think of the holidays back at home was the last minute rushing and yelling in preparation for the pending church service. My Skype video chat with my family back in the States in the corner internet café was my Christmas gift this year and next Christmas I look forward to once again bringing in the season with them.
Appologies for not including fotos this time around. I have them but the internet cafe I´m at is way too slow to upload them right now. I will try my best to get them posted shortly.