Tag Archives: christmas family traditions

Our Mexerican Christmas Spirit

8 Jan


“But Santa didn’t come to my house!” one of my students jokingly complained when I told her my new shoes (“princess shoes” as Lucia calls them) were from Santa Claus. “Sometimes, especially when you’re an adult,” I replied, “you just have to make your own magic.” I told her how I even took the time to wrap them up, even though I’d bought them for myself. I acted like it was a surprising gift when I opened it- not to trick my kids, but rather to enjoy myself.



My princess shoes from Santa Claus

This year was by far my best Christmas as a grown up. It was very much not USA-style and also not Mexican-style. It was very much ours, a lovely mix of traditions and inventions and doing what feels good and makes people happy. (Satisfied Sigh.)


As Christmas neared here in Puerto, I remained blissfully isolated from all the consumerist, excessively capitalist culture that overwhelms the holiday season in the US. Plus the temperature is in the 80s every day, so it’s easy to feel blissful, or at least generous and optimistic.


I was excessively lucky in the capitalism department this Christmas, so I tried to spread the wealth-based joy around (nope, wealth and joy are not the same thing, but sometimes a thoughtfully purchased thing can bring great joy). I got my Christmas bonus from work (Thank you, Mexico!) I got money from family to spend on Christmas (a shit-pot-full when you convert those dollars into pesos!! Thank you, family!) I immediately went out and got WILD AND CRAZY! I was a spending machine. I bought all three of the books I liked for the kids instead of deciding on two! I bought a tree-topper star that cost 1/3 of what the tree cost, just because it was the best and I knew Lucia would love it. It was a major shopping extravaganza, at least compared to my usual non-spending, thrifty self.


When it came time to open presents, it didn’t seem like I had been on a wild and savage shopping binge. The kids each got six presents, plus two stocking stuffers from the elves. Six presents is a lot around here, although it’s practically nothing in the US. Some of their presents were items that they needed anyway, like a new towel for Khalil, and new shoes for Lucia. They each got two new books, because, you know, priorities. Khalil got a new puzzle, with an easy part he can do himself and a harder part that Lucia has to help him with (I patted myself on the back extra on that one). The elves brought us new mugs, including mini-sized mugs (delicate glass, says Lucia) for the kiddos. I immediately made hot chocolate to break them in, of course. The elves also brought us new bath sponges, with different colored squares meshed into the loufa part- and that continues to totally thrill the children, even days later.



Our tree,  complete with presents (guitar is an old present)

Aha, I said to myself! This is what makes giving gifts so marvelous! When it makes somebody sincerely excited or pleased because of this useful or interesting thing that you thought of for them, gift-giving is utterly joyful. Sitting around drinking hot chocolate with our matching mugs was so surprisingly fulfilling. Watching Khalil be able to open presents for the first time, appreciating his rapture in tearing paper, was so gratifying. Even when Lucia cast aside the book I had ordered her off of Amazon for the more graphically-enticing one, it was okay. Days later, once she finally wanted to read it, she asked to read it about 7 times straight. It’s so endorphin-producing, this gifting thing done well. When giving gifts is obligatory, when you’re too strapped for cash or don’t have a clue about what someone would truly enjoy, that’s when gift-giving is a nightmare. But this having small children who are stoked about everything? Gift-giving nirvana.



Khalil showing me how he’s going to drink from his new mug

So I’ve willingly spent more money on non-emergency items in the past two weeks than I have possibly in the past few years. But I’m not worrying about spoiling my kids. I have zero worries about my kids becoming thing-obsessed Me!Me!Me!Monsters. First and foremost because they don’t watch TV. No ads = less implanted desire for crap. Number two, because they aren’t surrounded by kids who have everything they want and another 82 billion things they might or might not even want. Number three, because I am their mother and Conan is their father and neither of us are especially materialistic. Number four, because they already have a room full of toys strewn about everywhere, thanks to birthday parties and grandparents and whatnot. We’ve probably bought about 10 of the 100 items currently being showcased on the bedroom floor. They have plenty, but they don’t get new stuff all the time; mostly only on their birthday, Christmas, and certain grandparent visits. I feel like it’s a pretty happy medium, and I’m grateful that my “village” is there to help make some of my kids’ material dreams happen.


So what else did I buy with my Christmas bonus money, besides these few gifts for the kids? I bought them a #$%^damn Christmas tree, for the first time, finally. Since it was the first Christmas we spent here, at our house with electricity and not in Juquila at my mother-in-law’s, I decided it was time. Well, maybe I bought it mostly because my four year old asked me relentlessly if we were going to decorate the Christmas tree yet, until finally I just had to make time to run out and buy one. Every single morning she’d ask, “Are we going to decorate the Christmas tree? Can we do it now? No? After school?” And every day I’d be like, “I still have to buy the Christmas tree. We can only decorate it on the weekend.” (Because we literally have about 10 minutes of time where all four of us are together and awake on week days.) So finally I made time to go select our permanent plastic tree.  A fake one, mind you, because there are not a lot of real pine trees around here, and they don’t cut them down and sell them for Christmas.


After I bought it, I still had to listen to a couple more days of whining about decorating it now, today, right now. “We can do it with Papi while you’re at work,” she reassured me on Friday morning, trying to convince me it didn’t require the whole family. (“I don’t think so, my darling. I want to do it with you.” I countered.)  “We don’t need to wait for Papi,” she insisted on Saturday morning, and I insisted that we could indeed wait a few more hours.


Once it was a reality, Lucia told me about 20 times that day some version of, “I’m so happy we decorated the Christmas tree!” Thankfully, Conan weighed down one side of our tree with a concrete block, which made it last several days longer than the 16 hours that I estimated before the nearly-two year-old destroyed it or got destroyed by it. It has zero breakable ornaments on it, so I’m also winning there. (Perhaps it’s a blessing that I can’t find the Xmas decorations I bought the first year we were in Mexico?)


What else did I lavishly purchase, you ask? I got all the ingredients to make Christmas cookies, including sprinkles and glittery edible stuff and store-bought icing, because, sorry, Martha Stewart, some of your recipes are too damned hard. It took me (us?) about 4 days to make cookies this year, mostly because the little one is neither little enough for lots of nap time nor big enough to actually help. Mostly he wreaked his usual havoc upon the process, until I got smart and gave him and Lucia their own bowl of flour and measuring spoons and such to work with on their own, AWAY from the big-girl cookies. Even then, I only made two dozen cookies before I officially declared that they had done a great job, and we are finished now. I refrigerated the rest of the dough. I ended up making cookies late at night and early in the morning in the days that followed so that we’d have enough to give everyone. I let Lucia decorate enough for everyone to get one decorated one. That was all I could handle, since each cookie took about 7 minutes to decorate, all the while fighting off Khalil who immediately devoured the cookies I gave him to decorate. He is right at the perfect age of being big enough to understand that he is not supposed to eat the cookies (he’d point to his mouth and shake his head no) but unable to actually resist the impulse, shoveling the cookie into his mouth immediately after telling himself not to.


More than anything, it was important to me to make cookies so that the kids get excited about giving gifts almost as much as receiving. I don’t think they are capable of appreciating the giving quite as much as us adults can be, but at least if they get in the habit and have a good time doing it, it’s a start. “I’m going to give them the bag of cookies and they’re going to hug me and say, ‘Gracias,’” Lucia told me, smiling and giddy after we sorted them. It’s a start.


So what else, you ask, did I purchase on my rampage? I got gifts for the parents who have covered our butts by fearlessly, selflessly driven Lucia to school this whole school year so far. I donated to the White Helmets in Syria (Dear universe, it’s the least I could do). I determined what gift I plan to give when my buddy in the copy room has his (and his wife’s) twins in spring. I chipped in on the massage gifts for Lucia’s teachers (thanks, other parents, for organizing that business). I’ve spent almost all of my Xmas money on local vendors, carefully avoiding our two or three big-time department stores (yep, only a few in existence here).


I’m feeling pretty damned satisfied about my overall Christmas experience- perhaps for the first time in my adult life. Besides being excited about gift-giving, I was also feeling extra good this Christmas for various other reasons. For one, I made awesome lists and got a large portion of my shopping done in one day, even with Khalil strapped to me (high-five to myself!). Some other random good stuff happened, but mostly the thing is that this year I was pretty much thrilled with everything. I adopted the attitude of my children that everything is fabulous.


In part, it’s that I’m for-real in my 30s and I don’t have to wait around for someone else to give me permission to do something, or to join me in my joy. I know what my mission is and I will figure out how to accomplish it, mostly on my own, and still enjoy the hell out of it, thank you. So, for example, when the four year old won’t shut up about decorating a Christmas tree, but you don’t even have a tree to decorate? Go out and buy one on your lunch break. (Or do like we did last year and get a tree stub with various branches to decorate. It totally works.) Plastic trees even fit on the bus. Your coparent doesn’t like shopping? Great. Make your list and go. When there’s no one to ask, you can make yourself be more decisive in your purchases without anyone being upset about it. No one around who’s a brilliant gift-chooser and you don’t want to be disappointed? Buy it for yourself and wrap it. Or at least snap a photo of what you want and send it to someone who might buy you a gift. You are kind of a grinch but kind of a jolly old person? Figure out what traditions reflect your values and hopes, what things bring meaning and joy to your family’s life, and make a valiant effort to follow through with those. Throw the rest out the window. Don’t kill yourself doing even the things that you think are worthwhile. This year, just making cookies was so hectic that the craft-making/gifting I planned with Lucia was over the top. Maybe another time. All of this is my teensy-tiny tidbit of self-wisdom as I near my 33rd birthday. It was so helpful for me. (Who in the world really wants to go back in time? Ugh.)


Despite some of my concerns, I decided to do the whole Santa Claus thing with the kids, for now, while it can still be somewhat vague magic. Once Lucia starts asking intense questions (beyond the current, “What’s a chimney?”), I’m gonna have to give her a more-real explanation. But I’m already thinking about how to phrase it all, because we are not giving up on magic. Magic there will be- every Christmas and all kinds of days in between. Because sometimes, or maybe usually, when you’re a grown-up, you have to make it for yourself. You have to make it for other people, too. That is the magic. Sharing the joy. Sharing the power of our love. So better “late” than never, happy holidays and Happy, Happy Magic-making and Joy-sharing, from my Mexerican family to yours!

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!