Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day, Mexican Style

Feliz Navidad!

We wish you all a happy Holiday Season, wherever you are!

Our Christmas Day was a truly memorable one, filled with plenty of joy, laughter, and a few surprises.  It started "normally" enough for some North American transplants - the kids waking up way, WAY too early, rushing up in search of Santa's loot.  Will's biggest concern was whether or not Santa spoke English in Mexico and the potential for gift request mishaps due to translation issues.  He even left a post-it note asking Santa to check the boxes on which language he spoke in Mexico:  English or Spanish.  Santa checked both.

Xmas lunch - Mexico style...
It was strange to be so far South for Xmas.  No snow, no sledding or ice skating, no numb fingers & toes, no hot chocolate, no roaring fires, no mistletoe and no Bing Crosby.  Odd.  But something did indeed feel right about the 70 degrees, sunny skies, sounds of marching bands & exploding fireworks.  And some carne molida (ground beef) tostadas for the mid day meal seemed equally appropriate.  I guess we are beginning to really feel at home here...

And doing so, it just made snese to have the kids bust open a piñata filled with candy out on the patio.  However, our gringo amateur status was evident in the coco-crispy explosion that resulted, requiring a major piñata "time out" for technical difficulties...

Alya shows off the spoils of war...
Unsurprisingly, Xmas down here is dramatically different than up north.  Economics, I'm sure, plays a part, but culturally, this holiday is approached from a notably different angle:  it's just not nearly as commercial down here as back home.  The decorations are modest, the emphasis is on social gatherings v. material gift giving, and the "hustle" of Xmas shopping & preparation is completely absent.  Even the shops don't scream "Xmas" with decor & sale signs.  And yet you absolutely know the season is here:  the town is decked out with everything from cheesy plastic tinsel & lights hanging over the streets (similar to American public street decorations), to star-shaped piñatas (ranging in size from the diameter of a hoola-hoop to the diameter of a mini-van), hand made paper lamps, to streamers and plastic flags of all types and colors strung across the streets.  I think I drive Janan crazy every day with my continuous exclamation: "my god, these colors are explosive!"

Add to that the nightly (yes, every single night) of parades and processions beginning 9 days prior to Xmas, along with nightly fireworks, and you know something big is in the air.

The day itself is one of, like back north, relative calm:  this is a family day.  Yet the persistent explosions of fireworks throughout the day remind us that we aren't in Illinois...So, like most of you (at least those of you with kids), we went thru the spectacle of opening presents, eating of lots of candy (thanks to the piñata) and treats, playing our games that Santa brought, and enjoying some family time.  Yet it was fittingly modest - and much more enjoyable as a result.  Less presents meant less stress and more time for us to have fun & play together (and if felt good not buying a bunch of crap from China).  This was one of my favorite Xmas days ever!

One of many neighborhood market stalls selling various Xmas goods.  Notice the variety:
lights, greens, trinkets, etc...

Gummy bears for Xmas - why not?
New jammies!  Yeah!

Leftovers - at least we'll recycle it via art projects...

Our tree that Charlie Brown would love...

Sometimes the wrapping is as much fun as the gifts...
So I mentioned we spent much of the day playing games, and on the subject of games, there's nothing like trying to learn a new game when the rules are all in Spanish.  Had it been any other day but Christmas, I'd have taken the opportunity to interpret the rules to my favor, but that seemed to push the limits of even my scruples...

So we played many rounds of Uno Spin (it took about five rounds to figure out the appropriate translation of the more technical sections of the Spanish-only rule book), Loteria (basically a Mexican version of bingo, albeit with a much more interesting assortment of space designations: instead of B6, e.g., you call out such things as Death, the Devil, the Drunkard, the Parakeet, the Cactus, the Pear, etc..... see photo).

Look closely... there's something for everyone here...
And no father-son Xmas day is complete without some technical "self-assembly required" gifts beyond dad's technical abilities and beyond the son's patience level.  In this case, it was one of those battery operated techno-mechanically-inclined-engineer-to-be multiple experiment-type gifts, complete with a battery, copper wires, clamps, and instructions in Spanish.  It's hard enough in English, and yet I still needed little pointy elf fingers to get the damn connections right.  Yet I endured, reminding myself that the true meaning of Xmas is patience.....

And the most humorous moment of our day was, without doubt, when, after nearly forty minutes of intense concentration and careful placement that would have made a mine-layer proud, Will and Tom managed to rig a battery operated intruder alarm rigged to Will and Alya's bedroom door specifically intended to notify us of the unwanted entry of any moms or sisters.  

Shot from manual on how the "intruder alert" should, in theory, work...
About an hour later, after commanding the kids to get ready for bed, Alya somehow knowingly stepped aside unassumingly enough not to remind Will that he had set the alarm in the first place, and he plowed through, proving we had constructed things well.  After Alya rolled her eyes and gave Janan what was later described only as "the look", Janan passed on some worthy maternal advice to her daughter, saying "Just so you know, this will happen so many times in your life, and you will always know so much more about what's going on than they will. Trust me - it's both a blessing and a curse."  And Will made me very, very proud, when he, without missing a beat, exclaimed, "I meant to do that.  I was testing it to make sure it worked."  Always reassuring to see a son carrying a father's torch...

I hope that made you laugh, as we are still giggling about it (could be the wine).

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Play

Last week the kids left school a bit early to head to the the Santa Ana Teatro in town to perform their Christmas Pastoral. The fourth graders are standing on the left, they were the back up singers.  The third graders, Will's class, were the actors.  The rest of the school watched and joined in for some hymns at the end.

Will, as the angel, telling Mary the big news.  (in Spanish - he did a great job!)

The three kings, Will in the background with the star.

The audience (parents) sang along to silent night, once in spanish & once in english.  It was a beautiful afternoon.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

only in mexico, part 1 of many...

mexican road block


After school the other day we had an impromptu get together at the Hillers' house.  At some point it was time for Redding (Will's buddy) to go to his karate class down the street.  Will asked if he could go with him to watch.  So Will, Redding, Russell (another friend), and Mason (Redding's brother) all went down to karate class.  It's only a few doors down from the house so they were fine to go alone.

About 20 minutes later Mason returned.  We asked him where Russell and Will were.  He said, "They decided to join the class."  We didn't think much of it at the time.  A bit later we decided to get home and went to pick up Will on our way.  We arrived at the karate class expecting to find Will and Russel in the waiting room watching.

But, alas, there they were in the front and second rows participating with all the other kids. They were easy to spot in their street clothes amidst all the white karate outfits.   The instructor was giving them individual instruction and everything.  Here it seems, not only are waivers skipped, but parents aren't even necessary!


While in the hotel at the Mexico City airport, instead of asking kids not to ride on the luggage carts, the bellman insisted that Will and Alya ride all the way to our room.


This one doesn't need an explanation.


Women washing their clothes at the "lavenderos" or public sash basins.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

one day, two celebrations



Alya and I were doing some christmas shopping and ran into this bride and groom coming from the cathedral. 
The car was decorated in the same green and white with paper flowers all over it.

Earlier, when coming home from a hike in the country, we were blocked for a while by this procession on horseback.  We aren't sure if it was a wedding or a "quinceanera", a fifteenth birthday party similar to the debutante galas in the US.  The girl, or bride, was decked out in gold lamé and high heels on her horse.

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's beginning to look a little like Christmas...

The markets are full of Christmas wares now - lots of pinatas, oranges,

sugar cane (on the left, used for a holiday punch as well as eaten raw),
evergreen branches, tree decorations,
and more...

The streets are festive and colorful.  We decided to put these lanterns up in our living room too.

We're not sure how we feel about clubbing a Santa Claus pinata.  I guess nothing is off-limits when it comes to pinatas.

These "star"  pinatas are hung all over town.

We are dog sitting Indie for a few weeks.  She is great fun and a source of constant entertainment for the kids.  She is the dog of our friends the Hensley's, a wonderful family with three boys (can't seem to escape all the boys) from California.  Jenny (the mom) is crafty (to say the least, she is actually an accomplished, successful fabric designer) and has taught Alya and I to "felt".  We customized our stockings above.  Indie brought her own from home.

I just had to put these two close-ups in here for my "crafty" friends at home. (Anastasia - aren't you proud?)

the circus is in town

So, we decided to take the kids.  Will brought his buddy Redding and Alya brought her friend Maisy.  We were six of maybe 50 people there.  It was sort of odd, but fun at the same time.

The animal acts were this one (camels, miniature horse, and a lama or two walking in circle) and a scantily clad woman with 5 black panthers.  We saw tigers, monkeys, and some other animals in cages in the big tent, but they didn't perform (all the better if you ask me - always a bit depressing).  Last year, when we were here for a couple weeks in the summer, they promoted the circus by driving a truck around with a tiger in the small cage attached to the back.  The bars were rather wide and they let everyone walk right up to it to see it.  It was totally nuts. 

The boys opted for popcorn at the intermission,

while the girls had mexican candy apples.  I think they are both drunk on sugar here.