Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Getting Ready for Christmas in Guadalajara

"Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays..."

Yeah, scratch that. This year we're in Mexico, on our own, which is pretty awesome except for times like this. Family is all gathered together in Palm Springs, California (Matt's family), which is 1,287 miles away from Guadalajara and Palm Bay, Florida (Chris' family), which is 1,479 miles away from Guadalajara (both slightly closer than 1,686!). And we're in a new place, so we don't actually know anybody here, no friends, no community, nada.

"I'll have a Blue Christmas, without you..."

Yep, it's a real possibility. But we're not about to take it lying down. Instead we've concocted a plan to keep ourselves busy and so happy together (to continue the song theme). On Christmas Eve day, we're going to head to Zapopan and explore the Basilica there. Then we'll come home and make popcorn balls, a particularly delicious family tradition. On Christmas Eve night, we'll head out to the nearest parish church a few blocks' walk away. It's Roman Catholic and entirely in Spanish, but hey, it's the same baby Jesús we're celebrating. Then we'll come home and hopefully eat some tamales, if we can find some tomorrow.

(Brief side note about tamales: Apparently many years ago my family used to eat tamales on Christmas Eve! This was way before I was born, when my mom was growing up in San José in California and her parents were friends with a Mexican family. My grandma would make tamales with her Mexican friend (my grandpa was the taste-tester), and everyone would head over to the open house - complete with tamales - on Christmas Eve. I seriously just learned this about my family last week. The things I don't know about my own family could fill a book... And one more thing: Papa, y'all had traditions of tamales and oyster stew, and you chose to drop the tamales and keep the oyster stew? I mean, I like the little crackers, but seriously?)

On Christmas morning we'll gift-exchange and tear open this little pile of presents Chris's folks sent down to us. At the moment we have them sitting under our little two-foot-tall plastic tree. Then we're going to cook. We're going to cook a lot. And for that, we need food.

So, this morning we walked down the street to the tianguis, little market stands that are set up every week on Tuesday morning. They're kind of like farmers' markets, except that in addition to fruits and vegetables they have everything from fake Abercrombie clothes to pirated movies.
Chris picked up the appropriate fruits and vegetables, and I got distracted by the pirated movies. Feeling nostalgic, I picked up copies of Mi Pobre Angelito (Home Alone) and Santa Cláusula (The Santa Clause). We already have Die Hard (watch it again, it IS a Christmas movie), so that rounds out our Christmas trilogy for the year. We also picked up some Christmas music en español, including Spanish versions of familiar carols as well as stuff that's new for us, like "Peces en el Rio."

Then we hopped on a bus and went to downtown Guadalajara. At the bus stop I picked up a copy of the English-language paper here, the Guadalajara Reporter. Reading the Guadalajara Reporter was a profoundly disappointing experience. I was hoping to find some information on local posadas celebrations, but no dice. Worse, the paper appears to be aimed entirely at the retired American population living around Lake Chapala, about an hour from here. No offense to the retired expat population, but I have no interest in your lakeside properties. Sigh.

Anyway, when we stepped off the bus we stepped into the biggest crowd of people out and about in downtown Guadalajara I've yet seen. It was definitely the last shopping day before Christmas Eve. Like Michigan Avenue in Chicago, but without the snow.

Another difference, as you might notice from the photo above, is that there are photo-op Santas everywhere. Not Salvation Army Santas, mind you, but little kiosk-sized North Poles where Santa sits and welcomes children onto his lap for timeless photos. In the States these are usually in department stores like Marshall Fields and that other evil store that begins with an M- and ends with an -acys. But in Guadalajara these sit-on-my-lap-for-a-picture Santas are on every street corner. The dude above is working alone, trying to invite people, well, into his lap, I guess, but other Santas have helper elves who help to hustle people in and take the photos for them. A little further away from the city center, the Santa and his helper in the picture below are waiting for more customers in a not-very-crowded place. They look a little bored.

There are also nochebuenas everywhere. Nochebuenas are better known in the United States as Poinsettias, after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico who discovered the plant around the area of Taxco and brought it to the U.S. in the 1830s. At the Lutheran Center we actually had a sprawling nochebuena plant growing in the backyard of our house; here we just bought a little one for our little apartment. Below you can see a more grandiose collection of nochebuenas, arranged into a giant Christmas tree.

Passing through the myriad of Santas and nochebuenas, we made our way into Guadalajara's huge cathedral. It was the first time I'd been inside, and it truly was a cavernous place, with tall white columns and the towering arches so common in these Mexican iglesias. Since we're in the midst of Advent, there was a beautiful nativity scene set up in one corner, draped in Christmas lights.

We wandered around the giant downtown market for awhile, tired ourselves out, and headed back toward our apartment, stopping on the way at Wal-Mart to pick up the last of the food we'll need for our Navidad feast.

Later on in the evening, I got on the computer and started clicking around. I tried calling my family on Skype, but somehow I couldn't make the connection. But our friends Zach and Hannah video-called us, and it was like we were in the same room (one day we are totally getting that hologram chat set up!). I tried my family again, but no dice, so I wrote up this blog post instead, and noticed all the friendly blog comments we've received lately (thanks!). For some reason we've had a Facebook message frenzy in the last week. And my old friends from Chicago, Andy and Eddie, both sent emails tonight.

So maybe we're not so alone after all. Maybe.


Zach Parris said...

Enjoyed seeing you last night. Thought you might enjoy this gem.

Zach Parris said...

ps - check out my html skillz

Matt Keadle said...

Dude! We were totally just jokingly singing that to each other this morning! Crazy! Anyway, you missed the real music video for that song, which I proudly own on DVD (probably on more than one DVD). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eka9riEUZo&feature=related (Clearly my html skillz are lacking...)