As one would expect since I have previously shared that many things are different here in Panama, so was our first Christmas. We miss the family gatherings, watching the grandchildren open their presents, cooking and eating together, and perhaps viewing football games or our favorite Christmas movies as we sit around the living room. And yet, we enjoyed this different Christmas as well.
First of all, it really didn’t feel like it was Christmas. We are used to much colder weather, crowded stores full of shoppers buying the last minute gifts, constant Christmas commercials on TV, and lots of Christmas trees and decorations everywhere. Here in Pedasí with the arrival of the dry season, the weather is warm and breezy. There are still decorations, but it didn’t seem as much as I’m used to. Some homes had garland and lights around their front windows and decorated trees on their front porch. Lights were strung over some of the trees in the town square. I especially enjoyed the small Bethlehem villages built in front of a few homes. (My father always set up a old fashion Christmas village in his livingroom every year.) But some homes had no visible lights or decorations. The Super Central market only had a small table of Christmas decorations for sale. So there is not as much commercialism as in the US, but it’s growing, especially in the bigger cities. Mikkel and I agreed to not purchase each other gifts this year since we had just moved into our wonderful home. Previously, we donated to the children’s Christmas party in Los Destiladeros, as well as the Christmas Shoebox program. We had already ordered and sent gifts by way of internet shopping to our family in the US. So nothing was under the tree this year, but we didn’t mind. Christmas is more about giving and spending time with others.
On Christmas Eve, for most of the townspeople, the evening is filled with parties and fireworks throughout the night. We decided to go to a celebration at Smiley’s Restaurante. As we were getting ready, the electricity went out throughout most of the pueblo. This did not stop the party going on at our neighbor’s. The loud music continued, perhaps played using a battery-operated radio or iPod. So I took a shower by flashlight, and after calling a friend to confirm Smiley’s had power and was still open, we walked over. Our car was inside the garage which has an electric garage door and the driveway is gated which opens remotely as well. Even though we can manually override the door and gate, we did not feel like fumbling around in the dark. Besides, it was a beautiful star-lit night for an nice walk. Smiley’s apparently had a generator that kept the lights and music going until the power went back on. We enjoyed good “typico” music and food with many of our friends that evening.
Christmas morning was quiet for the most part. The neighbor children apparently got a blow-up wading pool for Christmas. So I listened to their joyous laughter and splashing as they enjoyed the cool water play in their yard. Mikkel had made pumpkin bread the day before, and now was baking a pumpkin rum pie for a Christmas dinner we would have later. That afternoon we joined some friends at Playa La Garita, another nearby beach we had not yet explored due to the rough dirt road access. But with having a 4-wheel drive, we ventured down the deeply rutted and sometime muddy road to a parking area. And then carried our food and towels about a 1/2 mile down the beach to where are friends were. It is a beautiful sandy cove where we sat under some trees. Apparently if we walked over another path beyond, there is another larger cove which goes to the river that divides the beach from Punta Mala. We will explore that another time. The water is warm and stays pretty shallow past where the waves break. I just kept thinking that never did I imagine going to the beach on Christmas Day, even when I lived in Southern California. We met some new expat friends that afternoon, and even our former next door neighbor JJ had joined us with his children. All in all, we had a great time.
Late that afternoon, after returning home, Mikkel cooked dinner on the grill. We invited our friend Dave to join us, who also lives in Pedasí. Mikkel barbecued a whole chicken and made mashed yucca. (Turkeys and ham were too expensive for us.) We sat out on the back patio sharing stories of our lives. Later we enjoyed the pumpkin pie with whipped cream in the livingroom. Then I made a few phone calls to my children, finishing off a different, but enjoyable merry Christmas Day. I pray that this Spirit of giving, hope, peace, and joy will continue throughout this New Year for us as well as for others.
Smiley’s Christmas Eve Party announcement