Tag Archives: christmas in juquila

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!

Perhaps Relaxing is Christmas Magic Enough

28 Dec

Ah, the sound of reindeer on the roof… Oh, no, wait, that’s just the weird global warming-induced rain-during-the-dry-season happening this Christmas in Juquila. And that pretty much sums up how my Christmas is going: not exactly how I planned or envisioned- but welcome to my life in small-town Oaxaca, Mexico.

I’m having some Mommy guilt that I’m gonna use you dear readers to talk through. See, this is now my first kid’s third Christmas on this planet, and I’m still not getting it together the way I’d like. I want her to have a Christmas similar to mine as a kid- full of magic and family and hope and excitement and gratitude.

While I loved Christmas as a child, I had a lot of years in between being a child and having a child to hate Christmas. It’s been a bit of a process trying to remember what was so awesome when I was little, and being able to recreate it down here. Like hanging stockings, for instance- there sure as hell aren’t any chimneys around here, and there aren’t even any Christmas stockings- the best I could do the first year were Santa hats. Last year I brought home stockings after a visit in the states, but I didn’t find their secret hiding/storage space until after Christmas. In all the moving and upheaval many things are temporarily lost in outer space, and many things haven’t happened because we’ve been too busy getting through day to day survival to celebrate in the time-consuming preparation-heavy ways that I would like.

Last December we had just moved to Puerto Escondido, and on Christmas Eve we moved our tent from Conan’s aunt’s porch to inside our newly built (not finished) house, which didn’t even have a door yet. We drank beers and ate some fire-pit-roasted meat with friends and promised to celebrate Christmas the next week when we went for a visit to Juquila. It didn’t bother me much because I figured Lucia still wasn’t too aware and definitely wouldn’t remember the whole thing. This year she is a very, very aware little girl, but I’m hoping that not-so-great memory thing will continue working to my advantage and buy me another year to get my Christmas traditions together.

So I didn’t get the stockings or even Santa hats hanging from anywhere. We didn’t decorate the Christmas tree. I suppose it’s something that we had a tree at all, although it’s nothing like the giant trees we’d go pick out when I was a kid. Paulina has a cute little fake tree (it’s difficult to get a real tree around here- because you’re not supposed to cut down the pine trees) with some lights on it, but our ornaments are stored away somewhere and I haven’t had time to find them. 

our plain-Jane little tree, but with some gifts at least...

our plain-Jane little tree, but with some gifts at least…

We didn’t bake any cookies, or leave out any treats for Santa. There’s no oven at my mother-in-law’s house, because she donated her good stove to me. We probably could have invented some other treat to leave out for Santa (surely milk and sweet bread would do the trick for that carb-lover), but it didn’t even occur to me until I saw all these posts on facebook of that nature.

I didn’t do a Christmas Eve big family dinner like the first year, because Christmas Eve we had another obligation with our dear, dear family friend Argelia (I think that story is for an entire blog post of its own). I invited Tia Meya and Argelia and other Juquila family for a big early evening meal, but I’m pretty limited on traditional food that I can make due to the lack of oven. I can’t even make deviled eggs because I didn’t bring the good mustard and the paprika, and you can’t get either of those things in this little mountain town.

I didn’t dress up, due to the lack of formal wear in my collection of maternity clothes. And I didn’t even dress up Lucia, because I didn’t root through all her stored clothes here until the day after Christmas (when I discovered, damn! Those cute dresses from last year still fit her! Now they reach her knees instead of ankles, but it could have worked). So we don’t look fancy in front of the tree, but at least we took one family shot in front of our undecorated tree! It’s some kind of proof for my child that there was some Christmas cheer happening the Christmas before she became a big sister.

Here's the proof- we celebrated Christmas this year.

Here’s the proof- we celebrated Christmas this year.

This is one of the cute dresses that still fit her- worn two days later. At least we got a nice family shot of us all looking good. We can pretend it was Christmas.

This is one of the cute dresses that still fit her- worn two days later. At least we got a nice family shot of us all looking good. We can pretend it was Christmas.

But there were some definite positives and successes in the mix. Here’s what, in my eyes, we got “right” this year:

First of all, my kid is definitely polite and perhaps learning to be grateful, thus far. Even if she does walk around her grandmother’s store pointing to each and every toy and telling me that she wants it (normal child behavior), she is pretty damn understanding about all the no responses (for a 2 year old). Santa Claus did come and leave a small gift for her and her two cousins who are also visiting here in Juquila, as well as for the neighbor/surrogate big brother Emma (reusable water bottles for the cousins and Lucia, Chinese checkers for Emma). Plus Santa left a kid-sized kitchen for her at home in Puerto that she’ll see when we get back, when the other kids don’t have to wonder why Santa left them less-exciting gifts. And we followed in my parents’ footsteps in giving her lots of stuff that she needed anyway (like socks! new sandals! her very own bath sponge!) but that’s exciting if you get to open it as a present. I feel good about the gift-giving situation and not over-spoiling my child, but still making it a little bit magical.

It was the first year Lucia could open by herself! She was very responsible about it, throwing every tidbit in the trash as she went along.

It was the first year Lucia could open by herself! She was very responsible about it, throwing every tidbit in the trash as she went along.

I was also really pleased with the family meal situation. On Christmas Eve, after we returned from our other engagement, we had an intimate family dinner of time-consuming pork in adobo sauce that my father-in-law Arturo had made. One of Conan’s friends came by and we included him, and he and Arturo and Conan stayed up sipping tequila and chatting till the wee hours of the morning (something I could have been doing with my dad and my sister if I were up there, and not pregnant, of course- and it would have been bourbon, not tequila). On Christmas Day, after all the present-opening, we had another meal, with the visiting cousins and Conan’s grown-up niece that lives next door, ten of us in all. It was simple- chorizo, green beans, eggs, black beans and tortillas, with my favorite salsa (chile costeño!)- but it was delicious and it was great to sit down at a big table together.

Despite the baby in my belly giving me a little bit of a hard time still, I got it together to go to the market with Conan after brunch to get the ingredients for my family meal. Everyone kept telling me I didn’t need to cook, but I love cooking for people, and it was important for me to make a family dinner somewhat Kentucky-style before people dispersed for the holiday. And best of all, I sat around listening to my youtube playlists, singing along to all kinds of favorite songs that I hadn’t heard in forever. I didn’t hurry and I didn’t worry about everything being ready at once. With a two burner stove that would’ve been impossible regardless, so I took it easy and enjoyed my own company. I listened to Johnny Cash and thought of my mama. I listened to Paul Simon (Me and Julio) and invoked my dad. And I made a simple but flavorful dinner of macaroni and cheese with broccoli, mashed potatoes, and creamy carrot soup. Our friend Arge came and we enjoyed another big-table meal, which is really what I wanted. That night Conan put Lucia to bed and I stayed up late chatting with Arge and Paulina. 

Just me and my broccoli microphone....

Just me and my broccoli microphone….Happily cooking with my youtube music (someday, someday I will have home internet and rock out daily!)

In general, I am pleased that I wasn’t particularly rushed or stressed and thus just enjoyed the time off work with family and friends. And yes, there are things I hope to do with and for Lucia in future years, but it’ll probably remain more pleasant and magical if I can stay laid-back about it all. Maybe that’s my newest and most important Christmas tradition.  (Thanks, you lovely readers, for letting me talk it out with you. I feel much better!)