Cigarette Christmas Trees, and Other Oaxacan Christmas Magic

3 Jan

This is Christmas #4 for us here in the lovely state of Oaxaca, and it just keeps getting more fun and more us, that special combo of gringo / my family traditions / Mexican / Conan’s family traditions / the stuff that we invent. I’m officially no longer a grinch!

Unbecoming a grinch has involved 1) not working in a restaurant or otherwise being exposed to excessive amounts of Christmas music, 2) having a very excitable three year old, 3) not being cold, 4) living somewhere where no one really expects a gift, and even the kids (who do kind of expect a gift) are stoked with just about anything. In these circumstances, who wouldn’t love Christmas?!

Here are some examples of our great cultural mix of Christmas excitement.

Christmas trees
Nobody has a real, live Christmas tree, partially because there aren’t that many pines, and partially because it’s not very cool to cut them down. So you either buy a fake tree, make a fake tree, or you cut down some other bare branched tree and decorate it. In Juquila, in the plaza, there’s a giant Christmas tree, which looks great at night. During daylight, however, you can see that it’s just a bunch of rows of green paper and some lights. It’s certainly more sustainable than cutting down live trees every year.


Lucia was stoked about this dress and spinning around in it.


Not looking at the camera, but still very festive in Juqulia’s plaza


Khalil in his candy cane pants


Also in Juquila, there’s a parade every year of “Christmas trees” that are just bare branched trees decorated in different ways. As far as I can tell it has nothing to do with the kind of Christmas decorations that people are accustomed to in the U.S. I am a big fan. Here’s an example of the weirdness/creativity:



decorated with paper flowers


more “Christmas trees” (and a mototaxi in the background- Lucia’s obsession in Juquila)


looking cute in front of some weird tree


decorated with orange slices- yum!


My favorite- a Marlboro-warning -themed Christmas tree. Hohoho!

At Paulina’s house in Juquila, we have a little fake tree, and our first Christmas here I bought decorations. Unfortunately nobody knows where those decorations are. Lucia was dying for a Christmas tree at our house, meanwhile, so while I was at work one day, Paulina had Conan cut down a sad little tree that was dying. They decorated it with cotton balls, some fake grapes, and the string of lights I’d bought that were previously hanging on our bookshelf. Then pieces of cotton started falling off onto the floor where the baby plays and I decided that was too much of a choking hazard, so Lucia and I strung up marshmallows and candy canes instead. But the real finishing touch came from Lucia eating the marshmallows. As 3 year olds are apt to do, she tattled on herself shortly afterward, but I couldn’t figure out which ones she had eaten because it looked like the decorations were still intact. I looked more closely and realized that every marshmallow within her reach had little bite marks in it. I love that she didn’t let her desire for marshmallows totally ruin the decorations.

xmas tree

our amazing Christmas tree at home in Puerto

xmas marshmallows

Lucia’s bites out of the marshmallows- the finishing touch!

Other Christmas highlights include:

Lucia got a mini-tent from her Abuela, which I’m talking her into using to sleep in, with the hopes of getting her out of our bed. She put herself down for a nap in it already so far, so it’s looking good. We’ll see when we get home.

Paulina invented kid gates to put up all around the roof (where the kitchen is) so the kids don’t die / seriously injure themselves. She used these wire things that had been up in her store before. I’m always impressed by her level of creative ingeniousness! Plus I am appreciative because it helped me relax and not need to be with the kids 24/7.


improvised baby gates! yipee!!!!


Lucia napping in her tent

On xmas eve a ton of family came by for family dinner, including our friend Argelia visiting from Oaxaca. We had a delicious dinner, the kids broke a piñata, and afterwards Conan, Argelia, her friend Magali and I went next door to the rooftop pool hall and played pool till the wee hours of the morning. (Ok, maybe not that late, but much later than my normal bedtime.)

xmas arge

friends and family on Christmas Eve!

xmas piñata

Lucia tries to break the piñata


Lucia’s favorite Mexican cousin, Jose Manuel, trying to break the piñata


family love

The thing that made me most love Christmas this year, though, was the anticipation, the excitement that Lucia and I were emanating. For one, I really realized that we get to mold our kids’ ideas about Christmas in most ways, since down here Christmas is not a huge deal. She doesn’t know about snow or reindeer or malls or anything else that’s typical in the U.S. for Christmas time. I don’t know how long this clean slate of expectations will last, so we’re taking advantage now.

Plus, having kids to get excited with and about makes things so, so different. I had a blast getting all the gifts. Even though most of the gifts were just little things- a new pack of crayons, some bubbles, a second hand morocco for 5 pesos- our kids loved them. Santa’s elves, those bringers of so many practical brought Lucia a new bath sponge, and she was so pleased. “Mommy, it’s a yellow sponge!” She declared, wide-eyed with pleasure. “I don’t have to use the pink one anymore. Now I can have my favorite color sponge!”

Lucia and I started new traditions this year, too, now that she’s three and a half and can do so much more, understand so much more. We made cookies to give to family, and she was so impressed that the mix of ingredients we stirred up and put on a baking tray turned into cookies (baking is pretty magical). We didn’t get to the gingerbread cookies (that recipe was a bit ambitious for our first try, with a 9 month old under foot), but we made sugar cookies, chocolate oatmeal no bake cookies, and easy peanut butter cookies. It was hectic, but so much fun! We also made ornaments to put on people’s cookie tins (okay, they were plastic things, not tins, but still). We glued tongue depressors together and decorated with pasta and paint and glitter.


happily making ornaments with Mommy


our amazing ornament presents


this one is for Nonna!

I’ve already got the cookie cutters for next year’s cookies. We don’t have a chimney and there won’t ever be snow on the ground here, but I’m enjoying these Christmas traditions way more than I could ever have imagined! Hohoho from Mexico, y’all!

2 Responses to “Cigarette Christmas Trees, and Other Oaxacan Christmas Magic”

  1. fml221 January 3, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

    I LOVE my ornament!! Can’t wait to hang it on my tree next year!

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