When I envisioned my ‘Ecua-Christmas’ I didn’t really know what to prepare for in all honesty.
In California where I am from, my family always gathers at my Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve to prepare a nice Italian dinner and open presents together. Then, the next morning, my sister and I would run into my parents’ room to wake them up and head downstairs to open yet more gifts. In the afternoon, my family would come to our house and have another extravagant meal.
When I woke up on December 24th, I headed over to the kitchen house and found myself to an empty kitchen. The family was upstairs casually in their pajamas; I asked my mom what we would be doing today, seeing as it was Christmas Eve, and she said nothing.
About an hour or so later, Mami Pachi woke up from her nap and asked if I was going. “Si” I said, even though I had no idea what this question had in place. As I was soon to find out, it would mean walking for two hours around the mountainous terrain that surrounds San Juan, in honor of el pase del niño. We ended the parade back in the community center and were greeted by what seemed like a thousand of people. The kids and I walked around the pueblo, ate some sachi papas, bought some helado, and watched some children dance in the center. Sitting in the cement stands, a group of some of my students came over to talk to me. They were dressed in their traditional attire for the danca and were so excited that I was going to watch them.
For dinner, we went over to my cousin’s girlfriend’s house and had a beautiful dinner with turkey, rice, potatoes, and pina colada (Only one drink… I didn’t break GCB!) After eating, the kids and I danced in the living room and I practically fell to the floor when trying to twirl underneath their short arms.
It was past midnight when I said goodnight to everyone and walked up the hill alone to my other house. On the way, another one of my mom’s was dancing with a group of her friends, surrounded by a bonfire and pile of beer bottles. I had one dance with her and talked about our different celebrations we were a part of in the day. I ended my Christmas Eve with an unexpected perfect dance.
The next morning I woke up late, considering I had gone to bed past midnight, and again walked to the kitchen house. This time I was greeted by an empty kitchen. “Where’s Pachi?” I asked my host brother. Apparently, she had gone to Gualaceo. I kind of figured this was to buy presents, considering that Gualaceo is the hub-city in my region.
I went upstairs and was greeted by a group of hugs from all my host siblings, not because it was Christmas but simply because they always greet me as such. I then decided to make myself some eggs and rice while I prepared a pot of hot coffee on the stove, and took my breakfast upstairs. The kids and I sang along to some of The Princess and the Frog in Spanish, followed by both Home Alone 1 and 2.
It seemed like I spent the next hours or so just watching Disney movies with my siblings. We also spent some time outside playing with the chickens and old bottle caps. I helped my grandmother and brother clean the backyard in the afternoon, and then swept and washed all the dishes in the kitchen for my mami.
Pachi and Vilma returned home late in the evening and handed the girls each a bag of new Barbie dolls. Then they got to cooking some chicken and, with that, Christmas was over.
I had originally expected my Christmas to be terrible.
I thought I would be overcome with a sense of longing to be in Huntington Beach. I told my parents not to FaceTime me because it would be too difficult for me to see them. I asked my team leader, Steph, to send me an extra Christmas card because I thought I would be too lonely and need a little extra piece of love. However, I ended my Christmas with hardly any thought of sadness.
Although I didn’t really have any expectations, I did think it would go poorly – which I guess is an expectation in itself. I didn’t get any presents, and shared a holiday in a language I am still juggling to grasp. However, I made the best of my Ecua-Christmas. I didn’t need presents to feel loved – I was with my family who have shown me unmeasurable kindness everyday that not even a new car could compare to that.
I still don’t know what I had expected from this Christmas. It wasn’t like California, but (of course not) because it isn’t California. This is Ecuador, and I am just grateful to have been able to have had such a memorable experience with my family here.