I want to give you some examples of how Christmas is different here in Maracaibo than it is in Ohio.
- It doesn't feel like "Christmas" here. To me, Christmas is cold with the possibilities of a "white Christmas". Here, the temperatures are still in the lower 90s during the day and upper 70s to lower 80s during the night. No chance of a "white Christmas".
- It doesn't look like Christmas. While I do see decorations around, I do not see the many rows of houses decorated with lights and fake snowmen and Santas in their yard. There is one street here, Bella Vista, that is completely decorated with lights and displays. There is also a lighted Nativity scene on Lake Maracaibo (Yes, ON the lake!) No real Christmas trees either- due to lack of pine trees in the tropics- but artificial trees are plentiful.
- It doesn't sound like Christmas. Instead of hearing "Jingle Bells", "Santa Claus is coming to town", "White Christmas", or "Joy to the World", I am hearing Gaitas. Gaitas are the traditional Christmas music for Venezuela. When a Venezuelan hears this music, they think Christmas. While I have heard an occasional rendition of our traditional Christmas music, it is mostly Gaitas. Fireworks are also a very big deal. Fireworks are sold on the street by street vendors.I have been hearing the loud boom of fireworks- set off by anyone- all hours of the night for the last week or so.
- It doesn't taste like Christmas. The main Christmas food here is called hallaca. It is a dough mixture that is stuffed with meat, chicken, pork, olives, raisins, chopped up veggies (like green and red peppers), then wrapped up in banana leaves and boiled. They also eat a special Christmas bread called Pan de jamon (Ham bread). This bread has ham, olives, and raisins inside of it. Pork is also widely eaten, along with a chicken potato salad. A common drink called Ponche resembles eggnog. For dessert, you will see Panettone- a type of fruit bread which looks similar to fruitcake but has more a bread texture.
- Different date? Here, Christmas is celebrated on December 24, not December 25. On December 24, I attended a Church play. I then went to spend Christmas with the family of my friend, Michelle. We arrived to her house around 11:15pm. We then ate dinner- yes, that late at night- and then did our gift exchange. We were done with the exchange around 12:30pm. We were going to spend some time with friends, but they were a bit tired. We went to bed around 2am. There were no events scheduled for December 25- just a day to rest. By the power of technology, I was able to spend some time on the phone with my family during their Christmas celebration on December 25. Thank you Lord for technology!!
- Who brings the gifts? Here, there are two options that children have for the person who brings the gifts at Christmas. Some children believe that Santa brings gifts to good children on Christmas (sound familiar?). Other children believe that baby Jesus brings the gifts. This will vary by family. One of my friends grew up believing in Santa, another in the baby Jesus. At Michelle's house, her sister excitedly set out cookies for Santa. However, this Christmas, she discovered the truth about Santa- that he cannot possibly get to everyone's house in one night so he brings presents a few weeks early to some children and leaves them in their parents' closet (oops!).
So, no matter how you celebrated Christmas, the important thing is that you did celebrate- celebrate the birth of a little baby who would save the world from their sins.