Monday, December 14, 2009

Felices Fiestas & Adios 2009 !

In San Nicolas, province of Buenos Aires, it is beginning to look a little like Christmas. Given this small city’s name, you might expect more evidence the citizenry to deck the halls more, as it was actually named for the saint who inspired the Santa Claus legend.* But they don't.

Frankly, I miss the holiday glitz and cheer of December in the USA. . . from Christmas carols and the Messiah community sings to fabulous light displays and fragrant balsam trees, from gingerbread houses to Christmas cookies and fudge, from hand blown glass ornaments and snow globes to Christmas stockings and candy canes. You won’t find those here!

Sure, as of December 8, the official start of the season, some shop windows sparkle with holiday adornment and perhaps one house in 5,000 has holiday lights. The small artificial trees in public and private, with their shiny plastic globes, fail to stir nostalgia or awe. But where is the holiday music? The Salvation Army kettles?

The only Christmas cards I get are from US friends and family (thank you, one and all!!!). Boxed cards cannot be found here. . . but no one trusts the Argentine Post Office to deliver them. I tried it once, and it took three weeks for my card to travel the 6 blocks from the PO to my friend’s downtown apartment.

To avoid holiday melancholy, I am going to approach the holiday with “the beginner’s mind,” as the Zen Buddhists put it. As positive psychologist Todd Kashdan (author of the wonderful book Curious) would encourage me, instead of going through the door marked “Nostalgia,” I’m going through the one marked “Curious” in order to see and appreciate what is.

In this season of “Christmas Lite,” far from big cities, commercialism is not yet rampant. I have saved days, perhaps weeks, by not being able to browse Xmas tree lots, holiday cards, wrapping paper, ornaments, not to mention gifts. My credit card bill in January will not stun me.

I’m delighted to report that the politically correct phrase “Felices Fiestas,” or “Happy Holidays,” is the custom here. Conservative Christian groups in the USA have no counterparts here to foment boycotts and alienate the few Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. (Argentina has the second largest Jewish community in the world outside Israel, and religious tolerance is the norm, despite a 92% Catholic majority. Who needs to prove anything?)

Thankfully, Argentinians call their December parties “fiestas para despedir el año”—farewell-to-the-old-year parties. I just love that, the phrase and the concept. (Ages ago, I boycotted the Skaneateles AAUW “Christmas party” after the board refused my suggestion to use a more inclusive term; I hear they have since changed.) Across Argentina at these parties, organizations and groups of friends get together to share a good meal. More formal groups may take the time to list and celebrate the achievements of the past year.

Already the restaurants and cafes are brimming with jovial diners at large tables. For the brindis, or toast, everyone must “clink” everyone else’s glass, so with great cheer and commotion in a large group, everyone gets up and squeezes and shuffles until they have bid everyone salud and felices fiestas. I like the way everyone makes verbal and eye contact with each other person in this process! I am really looking forward to getting together with other coaches in Buenos Aires on the 23rd for our own despedida del año.

The other important get-together will fall on Christmas Eve, La Noche Buena, when families convene for a cold repast (and housewives cook and refrigerate it earlier so they are free to enjoy it) and another champagne toast at midnight. Somehow in all that commotion, Papa Noel sneaks in and leaves gifts for the children, which are opened at midnight (and then the Three Kings reprise this on January 6). No early to bed for these kiddies! I haven’t had the chance to spend Christmas here with a family with small children, alas, but I have been struck by how the evening is about family sharing.

Ditto for New Year’s Eve, which is another family celebration with midnight toast, and I've been honored to be invited to others' family celebrations. Us fuddy-duddy can feel relieved at the low expectations and demands, and party animals will have to create their own excitement by setting off their own fireworks in the streets at midnight both Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve (as is done when one's soccer team wins as well...why leave fireworks to professionals?).

One thing I don't miss--a White Christmas. After over a quarter century in upstate NY, I am just fine with a dip in the pool on Christmas Day, surrounded by lilies, jasmine, magnolias, and hosts of choiring larks, doves, and more. Nor will the highways and byways be crowded. That starts in the New Year, when the summer holidays begin (and hotel prices skyrocket at the beaches).

Only Christmas Day and New Years Day are bank holidays, though schools start their vacations sometime around mid-December. The country semi-shuts down, even the courts, and the real partying begins! What a country, eh?

Okay, my "curious" beginner's mind plan: Enjoy open-mindedly the local customs while still preserving some of my own. I am going to bake those holiday cookies and fudge with my young German friend Britta, craft some presents, string lights outdoors, roast a turkey, and. . . ? We’ll see.

In the meanwhile, Felices Fiestas!

La Californiana in the Pampa

*Nicholas of Bari , born in what is now Turkey, was a Bishop at the time of the Emperor Constantine (and took the side of the Trinitarians in the Council of Nicea). His remains rest in Bari, Italy. He is known as the saint who will help single girls catch a man and live happily ever after. Legend says he aided three poor sisters in finding husbands by dropping gold coins down the chimney on to woolen socks that were drying below. But the city of San Nicolas promotes itself as “the city of Maria,” as the Virgin Mary’s appearances to poor illiterate Gladys were confirmed by the Vatican and are commemorated in a huge domed basilica that draws over 1,000,000 devotees per year.

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Beth said...

Funny, I was thinking of you today as I ponder normalcy and making choices that might not fit others, but work fine for me. Some things never change!

I'm off to Mexico on Friday for the holidays, and am looking forward to escaping the rampant commercialism. Although I admit living in FL, I do miss the 'feel' of the season - it always feels like July here. If only the snow could magically appear on the lawns and trees for a day or two, and disappear the next day.

Enjoy your new traditions and friends - yay for you, taking a new approach to celebrating the season.

Miss you! I'll raise a glass to you on the beach!

tangocherie said...

Hi Gayle,
This will be my 7th holiday season in BsAs, and it's not all that great, but you can't have everything, right? I miss the things you miss but most of all of course I miss my family. But I have other things here, including work all during the holidays for which I am very thankful!
Muy Felices Fiestas to you and yours!

Lucy said...

Hi my name is Lucy. I’m not sure how close you are to Buenos Aires, but I wanted to let you know about a contest I am having where you can win two tickets to a tango show in Bs As. Please check out the link if you’re interested:

Happy Holidays!

Katie said...

A lot of what you wrote rang true for me too, Gayle. I'm trying to make the most of what we have here, and I'm doing my best to incorporate some new traditions.

I hope that Christmas an New Year bring you love and laughter. That's what counts most.

Here's to good things in 2010!

tangocherie said...

Saludos, Gayle!

Thanks for your email!
I worked until 1:00 a.m. last night and will begin again on Sunday. I teach tango with my Argentine partner, Ruben Aybar, and this is a hugely busy season for tourists in town wanting a "toque de tango Argentino!"

Have a lovely holiday, and I hope we will meet in 2010!

Felices Fiestas!