Even though the Bay Area isn’t known for its white Christmases, nonetheless, as children of the Northern hemisphere, we have been conditioned by our holiday songs to expect at least a chill in the air come Christmastime. “Winter Wonderland.” “Frosty the Snowman.” “The Christmas Song.” “Jingle Bells.” “Let it Snow.” What the hell do people in the Southern hemisphere sing?
On Christmas here it was about 90 degrees and incessantly sunny. In the days leading up to December 25 you would be hard pressed to find many signs of the holidays anywhere. A few stores had an obligatory “Felices Fiestas” sign, but most places were devoid of any mention of them. No stores blared Christmas songs “re-imagined” by The Beach Boys or Wilson Phillips. The streets lacked the twinkling symbols of Christmas—bells, stars, Santa in his sleigh fashioned out of white lights and strung on wires across the street dangling perilously above the passing cars.
I realize that the massive displays of holiday spirit in the US that begin on (or before) November 1 are mostly retailers’ ploys to get people to spend money, but I’ve gotten used to them and I’ve internalized them as signs that the holidays are coming. As a person who is not religious, Christmas doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy spiritual feeling as much as it gives me the kind of warm fuzzy feeling that comes with two weeks off of work, fantastic deals on must-have merchandise, parties with family and friends, and delicious food and drinks. So I really missed all of those holiday indicators and as much as I hate to admit it, I even missed the Christmas songs. Not a lot, but there does seem to be some strange little void within me that those annoying songs fill.
I know that traditions are usually arbitrary, but even so, most people have a longing for them. Here is how Christmas day (AKA “Family Fun Day”) goes in my family: My sister and I (with or without significant others depending on the circumstances that year) arrive at my parents’ house in the morning. Upon entering, mimosas are thrust into everyone’s hands. The wood burning stove is already working at full-tilt and my dad is making the most awesome chilaquiles in shorts and a tank top. After breakfast (and probably one or two more mimosas) we open presents in an orderly fashion, going around the circle to see what everyone got. My sister and I don the Christmas socks that we got in our stockings and my dad starts making fabulous martini creations like key lime pie and espresso. (I missed out on the new one this year—raspberry cheesecake). Then the family fun begins. Over the years we have amassed a huge selection of board games like Cranium, Outburst, Taboo, etc. We rarely play these outside of FFD, so we dust off the boxes, reread the rules, and let the hilarity ensue. My dad always tries to pretend that he doesn’t like to play the games, but FFD is the only day that you are guaranteed to see him break into hysterical laughter and cause everyone else to nearly pee themselves. How could you not be amused by my sister during a particularly heated game of Cranium pointing at my drawing of Pegasus and triumphantly shrieking, “STEGASUS!” Or my father, not being able to recall the word “hickey” during a game of Taboo shouting, “MONKEY BITE!” over and over at the top of his lungs as if by divine intervention it might eventually become the correct answer.
Argentina, of course, has its own Christmas traditions. On Christmas morning at around 5:00 AM, we awoke to the sound of a crowd of people banging on drums in the square. The party had started at midnight with a free-for-all fireworks display and apparently this was the grand finale. “What the hell are those crazy bastards doing?” growled Adam flopping over and pulling the pillow closer to his head. After thirty minutes of this I was about to turn on the TV to try to drown out the noise when it suddenly stopped. Thank Dios we can get some sleep now. I went downstairs to get some water.
The night before we had a little incident with the family of birds that was roosting on the ledge outside of the kitchen. There were several babies in the nest and one of them decided that it was time to strike out on his own and it found its way into the kitchen. I opened the door to make dinner and there he was, perched on the floor looking extremely confused. This threw me into a panic because I was sure that he was going to die and I really can’t deal with the death of any animal that I have been even remotely involved with. Adam scooped him up and we had a brief conference about what to do with him. We ended up putting him in a flowerpot on the ledge in hopes that his mother would find him. “Here’s what’s going to happen,” I said to Adam. “You are going to check on the bird later and if it’s dead, you’re going to throw it over the ledge and tell me that it flew away. Can you do that please?”
Well, the bird was still alive in the morning. Its mother had found it and was busily bringing it food. However, at nearly 6:00 that morning, I opened the kitchen door to find one of its siblings staring up at me from the floor. For crap’s sake. I got Adam up and he tried to capture the bird who was slightly better at flying than the other. He scooted under the door to the entryway. When we got into the entryway there was yet another little bird flitting around. Adam managed to grab one and I opened the window to put it in the pot with the other one. Bird number one clearly had had enough of the outdoors and made a break for the living room thudding onto the floor. Bird number two was successfully led outdoors and thankfully he flew away. We put bird number one back into the pot and went to get bird number three. He too ultimately flew away.
By this time going back to bed was out of the question. Between the drums and the rogue fledglings, we just weren’t very tired anymore. In the meantime, a full-scale rescue attempt seemed to be going on outside with the mother bird and several male birds flying around the window, perching on the plants, and chirping at each other like crazy. Maybe they were giving that last little guy a pep talk, because he eventually took off and Adam swears that he didn’t throw him over the ledge.
Our day continued with few differences from the day before. We ate a little more, we drank some good champagne, we talked to everyone in the family, but there was nothing that we did that screamed, “Merry Christmas!” Even though we were together with our plastic Charlie Brown Christmas tree admittedly on a monumental escapade, I could tell that Adam was longing to see the snow in Walla Walla and I was pining for a game of Cranium and a Daddy-crafted martini.
So Christmas began with a bang and ended with, well, not a whimper, but a sigh that acknowledged that without the traditions that we’re accustomed to and the presence of our family and friends, Christmas is pretty much…just like any other day.