Even before entering the flat we were blinded by lights and glitter. But once inside, it was bigger and better than anything I could have imagined. Never have I seen so many Christmas decorations outside of a decorations shop. It was as if the flat was no longer meant to be lived in but was some sort of Christmas museum. I kid you not, every square inch of the relatively large flat was filled with religious figurines, talking reindeer or miniature Father Christmases. There was even a full sized inflatable snowman, two 'rivers' with real water flowing through the enormous (4m x 4m) nativity scene and a talking doll of the divisive ex-president Uribe, which was … awkward, to say the least. It seems there is some competition within Colombian households for the most extravagant decorations, especially the nativity scenes which take on a life of their own.
After being made to step into the nativity scene and hold hands for photos (amazing), we went to a neighbour’s flat for the official novenas. It was an extremely hot night so I awkwardly stood there trying not to sweat on anyone and hoping no-one would notice I was not singing along or doing the 'sign of the cross' movements with my hands. I didn't want my atheism to stand out too much! I had already learnt my lesson with that three years ago when teaching English in a university here, when the students found out I did not believe in God they were mortified. Oops.
When that was finished, we were given a tour of the shiny modern flat and the hostess told me that I definitely looked imported, what a line! We then ate natilla (see below) and buñuelos (fried dough balls) and avena (oat drink) with whiskey and made a swift escape.
I definitely appreciate the effort they go through and the community feel of it all, it's an experience I will never forget. Honestly, I don’t think words can describe what I saw last night but I hope that these photos speak for themselves!
In this region, in addition to the love of arequipe, they have similar sorts of sweet spreads that are sometimes just more cooked arequipe (manjarblanco), or mixed with a tiny bit of rice and are called pegado (stuck) or cortado (cut), depending on which point of cooking it is taken out and always just eaten on its own with a spoon. They come in these little bowls which are actually the shell of the mate fruit.
As you can see, most of the typical Christmassy food is sugar-based and the main meal ended up being so too (see below).
We had a normal day (when I actually was sorting out going to Panama to get my work visa) and in the evening my boyfriend and I made some little mushroom and cheese bites for the apéritif and we cracked open some Brut that I bought his parents. We listened to Colombian Christmas music all evening which, to me, just sounds like regular salsa unfortunately! Then we waited as long as we could before eating at around 10 and we had the following typical Colombian Christmas dinner: cold ham in a sweet sauce, tinned peaches and glacé cherries, cold mashed potato, pea and carrot salad and salad with raisins and apple. It made me chuckle that, where possible, all the savoury dishes had sweet things in them. Colombians really do love this mix and anything goes at Christmas!
Then we opened presents and waited for as long as possible for midnight before deciding we were all too tired and went to bed at around 11.30! It felt weird waiting up for midnight when nothing was going to happen, unlike New Years, but I guess it's a tradition here! But we had a nice time and it was a lot more relaxed than most Colombian Christmases and actually Christmas I'm used to at home, but at least I had my first Christmas in flip-flops and no warm jumper!
I hope you enjoyed your holidays wherever you are!