While I don’t have much culture shock anymore, Christmas in Chile is still hard for me. Having grown up in the United States, I have a different idea of what the holidays look like. I mean no offense to anyone that celebrates in the Southern Hemisphere, but I tend to turn into a Grinch this time of year when we spend the holidays in Chile.
For me, this time of year is snowy…or at least cold enough for a sweater. Hot chocolate, fire in the fireplace, music everywhere, decorations galore…while I know a lot of people aren’t into it, Christmas has an air of magic and happiness to it that you don’t find every other time of year.
Christmas in Chile is hot and sweaty.
I will never understand why they make Santa Claus (Viejito Pascuero) suffer in 34 C weather in a full suit. GIVE THE GUY SOME SHORTS!
Watching the movie White Christmas (a family tradition) also loses its magic when you’re baking in shorts and a tank top. (Though the song’s lyrics mean more than ever).
The decorations here are also lackluster. Electricity is fairly pricey, so having a lot of lights isn’t common. Everyone has a tree, but that’s pretty much it when it comes to decorating. In the US, I love driving around looking at the lights, but that doesn’t exist here.
They also celebrate Christmas in Chile on the night of the 24th rather than waiting until morning. For the kids, they call them outside to look for Santa Claus at midnight while a group of adults get all the gifts around the tree.
To me, it is silly to keep children up until past midnight to get their presents. They tire out before midnight, and then right after they get all stimulated, they go to sleep? Why not just open the presents in the morning? I don’t understand.
Plus, in my family, we always used to get Christmas pajamas to wear the night before so that we could go to sleep and wait for Santa Claus. No fancy PJs to be had here.
Spending the holidays in a different country than the one you grew up in is extremely difficult. Your traditions must be set aside in order to accommodate those of your adopted country. Maybe I would feel differently if my family were closer. But, sometimes you want tradition and familiarity, and Christmas is one of those times.
There are plenty of Chilean traditions I really love
18th of September, New Year’s Eve traditions, the Chilean BBQ (asado)…but I can’t get behind Christmas in Chile. It is sad for me to not have any of my family traditions. I wish there was a way that we could mesh the celebrations, but I have relinquished the fact that my traditions need to wait until we are in the US.
I suppose, in the end, missing out on my version of Christmas makes those times more special for me. When we are in the US for Christmas, I do absolutely everything that I can in order to make the most out of the Christmas season.
This year, seeing Amanda’s face as she opened her gifts was the best present I could have asked for.
Since she was only 3 months old last year, this year was really like her first Christmas. She loved tearing open her packages and was a bit shell shocked by the quantity of new toys that she received. She screamed as she opened each one with a sound of pure joy and excitement.
That was the best, and makes me tear up when I think of it, because this stage most certainly won’t last forever.
I also love spending time with the family and eating a big dinner. To be honest, I know in my heart that Christmas is least about the decorations, cold or whatever silly tradition our family cooks up. It should really be about spending quality time with those you love. It should be spent feeling grateful for all you have, and not what you lack.
Being with family and spending quality time together…that’s a tradition I can get behind, in whichever country we find ourselves.
Have you ever spent the holidays as an expat? How do you manage the cultural differences during this time of year? Let us know in the comments below or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Caitlin is the managing director of Snuggleosophy and the mother of 1-1/2 year old Amanda. She has lived as an expat in Santiago, Chile for the past 7 years and speaks English and Spanish fluently. She loves to promote reading for children starting from birth as well as multilingual and multicultural parenting. For her day job, she is a pricing and transportation analyst for international freight.