What The Holidays are About

Christmas was challenging  without my family this year. I couldn't avoid fantasizing  about the Puerto Rican pasteles my grandma makes.  Everyone sitting around the table, laughing, and eating our traditional yearly meal.  Instead, I  ate new foods, experienced new traditions and sat at a different table with different people.

Also coming to find out all the expectations I had would be the exact opposite. In a good and not so good way. For example, the fact that I was told we'd be having family over instead having a very intimate Christmas dinner with my host mom, dad and grandmother. I expected all my brothers to be with us but they ended up staying in Quito. I even bought a huge tub of chocolate ice cream for everyone. Which wasn't bad since there was more for us and ice cream for the following day.

Leading up to Christmas, my sister told me we'd be going to our town’s discoteca after supper. I showered and  put lipstick on, but we ended up staying home.  I didn't mind too much since I was tired and my sweatpants and slippers felt too comfortable to take off. My mother told me to come to “la misa” which I misinterpreted as “table”. Later I realized my host mom said we were going to church so I went to mass in Adidas sweat pants and a pull over sweater. In the back of my head I knew my grandma and Tia Lole would kill me if they found out. I barely made out the  words of mass. When we came home,  I was ready to eat but my host mom  told me it was tradition in Ecuador to eat at midnight. So I ate some rice to hold me over until we ate turkey. My host mother offered me soup as well and I  happily accepted the offer.  As she poured the soup into my bowl, I spotted a cockroach crawling on the pot and I prayed it wouldn't fall into my soup. After I ate, we sat in my mother’s room and watched movies. I impatiently waited for the turkey and the smell of it from the room reminded me of Thanksgiving and my family. When it was time to eat I couldn’t help but notice the Turkey was undercooked and pink. So I tried to eat the most cooked parts I could find (hoping my family wouldn’t notice).

I couldn't stop thinking of my family, wondering  what they were doing. I missed the food, my grandma, tia's and tio's and especially my cousins. Christmas back home  is a big deal, When I was younger,I’d spend the day before Christmas helping in the kitchen as much as I was allowed to. My older cousins would clean, wash dishes and make sure everyone has what they need during and after the meal. And when I got older, I did the same.

This year, I didn't have high expectations I didn't expect to receive any gifts this year either, but when I came to work the Friday before Christmas the dentist I work with, Daniela  left a box wrapped in metallic gold wrapping paper. I felt like a kid again- shaking the box trying to figure out what was inside and tempted to open it early.  When Christmas morning came,  I woke up excited to finally see what was inside.  It was a mirror with an inscription that read "La vida es como un espejo: te sonríe si la miras sonriendo." and a shower set. It  was really nice to be thought of this time of year and I felt less lonely.

After that I went out to eat chocolate ice cream for breakfast and sat with my grandma. She's a very traditional Ecuadorian woman. Whenever I see her, she's always in the same outfit style but different colors. She wears a fluffy pleated shirt with an apron and a ruffled shirt with big sleeves. The sleeves end a few inches above her elbows and fluff like the sleeves on Cinderella's dress. She's very sarcastic, witty and loves to pick on Cata and me for fun. I sat with her and helped her peel pea pods. She showed me what  guandules were and what  peas were. Looking at the guandules I couldn't help but think of my grandmothers arroz con gandules which is a Puerto Rican dish she'd often prepare for the holidays. And sure enough, I began to miss my family again and wanted to be with them.

I spent the rest of Christmas Day in bed listening to TED radio hour,  falling asleep for a few hours and then waking up to eat and listen to NPR. When I finally pulled myself out of the house to get something to drink from the store I ran into my niece Cata. She's the craziest, funniest and most adorable kid I've ever met.  Whenever I'm down, she always lifts my spirits.  I picked her up and carried her across town on my hip. We go to the main road and everyone was dressed in their best. We ran into my host sister (Cata's mom) and she asked me to come back and go dancing with her. So I went home and gave my host mom and grandma a big bottle of Coca-Cola. We sat and watched TV and I asked if I could go dancing with Diana and they said it was fine- so I got ready and left.

I took Cata with me to the Main Street. Everyone was listening to music on huge speakers, eating salchipapas and dancing in the street. I sat with my sister and her friends and talked with them. Cata was running around, sat on my lap with her friend who's also around 3. Being with them made me forget how sad I was. Just being around Cata and friends made the day a lot easier.

I’m learning a lot being away from family and being adopted into another for a year.  I realize how materialistic people back home can be , not to rule out some parts of Ecuador or some people who do not live in poverty within the country. We are bombarded with advertising and Black Friday deals constantly being told to buy this or buy that. People sometimes killing each other over discounted items and trampling over people for a flat screen TV or $20 crockpot. It's ridiculous. Through consumerism we can be pushed out of that bubble and into something less to do with family and more to do with greed. This makes people forget what the holidays  are really about.

For those like myself who've grown up in a Catholic household or believe in Jesus, Christmas is the day of the birth of Jesus Christ. For those who are of other backgrounds or religion it's around the time they practice their holiday traditions or ceremonies. But overall it's about being with family.  The gifts come second, it's a way to show love and that you're thinking of someone.