Is It Family? Is It Culture? Christmas Celebrations Acá y Allá

We spent last night, Nochebuena or Christmas Eve, at Andres’ parents’ house, with Andres’ parents, three brothers, and his cousin and her partner and their two teenage/young adult daughters. By the time they came over, around 9pm, the three year olds were asleep and the five year old was overdue for bedtime – we got him to sleep shortly after.

But the tradition in Andres’ family is to stay up until midnight, when it’s technically Christmas. Along with most celebrations here, this is aided by ongoing alcohol and food consumption. (Not necessarily excessive – but definitely ongoing)

(My dad’s side of the family – Irish Catholic – also has the tradition of getting together on Christmas eve, but it’s typically earlier in the afternoon and evening, with dinner and a few gifts exchanged, and then everyone goes home before the kids go to bed – with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.)

I went downstairs to check on the twins every 30-40 minutes or so. Then just before midnight, I went to stay near them, since firecrackers are often set off in the neighborhoods to celebrate the arrival of the holiday, which would be more likely to wake them up. They were fine, so I went back upstairs to give everyone a round of hugs, wish them Merry Christmas, and then came back down and fell fast asleep.

Around 2am, the twins woke up and started crying, scared. It pulled me out of my dreams and I comforted them and got back to sleep. I could hear Andres and his brothers still talking and laughing upstairs, which was fine with me – that’s what we’re here for, after all!

Between 6 and 7am, the five year old and one of the three year olds were awake. Time to get up. Another day on less than great sleep.

Andres’ dad arrived shortly with api, pasteles (empanadas de aire), and buñuelos. I enjoyed them but could barely get the kids to try a bite. Then I stayed with the sleeping three year old while Andres went up to eat.

Throughout the morning, Andres’ mom and grandmother were preparing lunch – soup and a main dish, and Andres’ mom was intermittently helping us watch one or more of the kids.

There were a couple of small toys that were under the tree, which the kiddos unwrapped with Andres and started playing with. Once the remaining three year old woke up, I went back up and was with the kids while Andres disappeared for a while. The five-year-old and I drew stars and angels and cut them out and put them on the tree, which was sweet. The twins played together with their toys and with the colored pencils.

Meanwhile the api, pasteles, and buñuelos sat on the table. Andres’ brothers were still asleep from the late night.

(When we had just one small kid, we weren’t so strict about bedtimes and he often stayed up with us a bit later and then woke up later. It was easier, too – he could be asleep in our arms and it wasn’t a big deal. With the twins, we were forced to get on a schedule. And that schedule doesn’t always combine well with the other things happening around us.)

Andres’ cousins and extended family will come over for lunch around 1pm, and we’ll all have some together time. But this morning, I couldn’t help feeling lonely. Where was the Christmas morning spirit? I felt that it had all been spent the night before.

Comparing to Christmas morning in the US – we would wake up, maybe open up stockings, have breakfast, get ready, and then go over to my parents’, where there would be a ton of presents by the tree. We’d all sit in the living room – my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, and the five of us – and open up presents, and then eat together.

I don’t necessarily want or need the piles of presents, but this year I’ve realized that having time on Christmas morning together is important to me. It would have been nice to sit around the table for breakfast with at least a couple of other people to have api and buñuelos together.

I hadn’t necessarily put my finger on this difference before – whether it’s cultural or family or what. Here, Christmas eve and lunch on Christmas day is the meaningful family time. For me, Christmas morning is when I’d like to have meaningful family time. At some point, we’ll talk about it and find a compromise that works for both of us. Such is life in an intercultural relationship.

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