In the USA, decorating for the holidays starts so early that you have to be living under a rock somewhere to not realize what time of year it is. Cities have begun to put decorations on public streets earlier and earlier, while holiday music creeps into the background before the first snowfall in the northern states.
I am a true Colorado girl and it takes a certain mix of signals, including snow, egg nog and lots of blinking lights, to really get me in the Christmas spirit. Here in Santiago? Well, let’s just say I keep forgetting it’s even December.
First off, there’s blazing sunshine and sweltering heat every day.
Second, there are no trees. Christmas trees I mean. Even in NYC there were makeshift stands lined up along the Avenues starting as early as mid-November. Practically anywhere with a small patch of floor space, be it an office building lobby, the supermarket, or the deli on the corner of 16th and 6th Ave, would have a tree up no later than the first week of December. Interestingly enough, we saw quite a few miniature trees all decorated up during our trip to the main cemetery here in Santiago earlier this week.
Third, the traditional decorations are few and far between. I’m used to seeing storefronts dripping with tinsel, lights and elaborate window displays. Storefronts that demand you spend your precious holiday dollars with them because they have exactly what you need and you can’t get it anywhere else. Here? Well, every once in a while we see a paper Santa face (circa 1976) hung in a window. In Valparaiso we were eating in a little restaurant and it took us the better part of an hour to notice the one solitary Christmas bulb hanging by a pathetic strand of garland at the top of the window.
I don’t mean to say there is NO holiday spirit to be seen in Santiago, I mean Chile is officially a Catholic country and Christmas is a national holiday here. We have seen wrapping paper for sale in a few places, there was a display of decorations available for purchase at a local market, and we heard the Spanish version of ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ at the supermarket a week ago. It’s just that our senses haven’t been assaulted with holiday cheer like they would be at home.
We have, however, seen Santa in a few surprising places.
How will we be spending our Christmas? Since most everything will be closed, we’ll be cooking at home (helllloooo grilled pork tenderloin with homemade mango and apple chutney…and this, recipe is at the end of the post), sampling a traditional Chilean holiday drink called Cola de Mono (kind of like a White Russian, or a Mudslide), skyping with family, and watching the season finale of Dexter online.
Happy Holidays, wherever you may be!