This is my 400th post, which seems fitting because I’m writing about a wonderful and significant Christmas for us, one that has me thinking about how our lives have changed since moving to Panama.
Christmas is celebrated a bit differently in Panama. Some people go to church on Christmas eve and then later, by 10 or 11 at night, the festivities are well underway. Food is prepared, fireworks are set off in the street, music can be heard from various homes, and people party in the streets. Midnight is the climax of the night, the moment when Christmas arrives. After a flurry of fireworks and greetings of Feliz Navidad to everyone, the holiday dinner is served. After dinner it is time for gifts. A Panamanian Christmas eve can last well into the night.
We were invited to three homes! We’ve been good friends with our neighbors since we arrived, and they invited us. I’ve recently met another retired lady a block away. I helped her get her house looking good for the arrival of her three kids and their families, so they invited us to their house. And, there is a Colombian bunch at the end of the street. Actually there are four houses of Colombians in the neighborhood and they all gather at the house on our street, so there can be dozens of people there. There were some guys setting off fireworks so I said hi as we walked by, and they asked us to join them for the holiday. It’s like that here, so different than anything I’ve ever experienced. You only have to say hello and within minutes you are treated like part of the family.
We started with our friends across the street.
Later, we wandered up the block to see my other friend and her family. She is so excited to have her whole family together. One son lives in Volcan and came with his girlfriend. Another son lives in Quebec, and came with his French Canadian wife and son. Her daughter lives in Mississippi and is here with her Puerta Rican husband, and their son and daughter. There were also some other friends and neighbors who came by so it was a great party, and really nice for Joel since there were many people who also spoke English.
At all these festivities we were the only gringos! (except for the lady in the red shirt in this photo. She is the French Canadian wife of my friend’s son). I definitely feel like we are immersed in Panama, and wonderfully welcomed into the lives and families of our new friends here.
At midnight there were hugs and kisses and “Feliz Navidad” all around! As soon as everyone at the party was greeted, then all the phones came out for phone calls to people who weren’t at the party. Then, there was dinner.
We talked a bit about traditions at Christmas dinners. All food is preferably home made, and it is important that all guests always have a variety of food and snacks available. Fruit – apples, pears, and grapes are served throughout the holiday. We went to PriceSmart on Monday and noticed there were boxes and boxes of these fruits stacked high in every available space. I’m not sure how this got started here since none of these fruits are grown in Panama, as far as I know. Rice with Guandu (pigeon peas) is also an important tradition. I noticed that tamales were also served at every dinner we saw (good stuff, I need to learn how to make tamales).
After dinner we said goodnight to these people and headed back to our street. The Colombians were back out in the street with their fireworks. Our other friends had also finished dinner and were opening gifts.
I don’t remember when we faded, probably close to 2AM. I could hear fireworks and music past 3AM in the neighborhood though. What a great night! When we were walking total strangers gave us hugs, kisses, and greetings of Feliz Navidad. We were told repeatedly by both families that we are part of the family.
And, I managed to take some photos of fireworks.