Today is Christmas Eve and it is a statutory holiday here in Panama. Gas prices are at an all time low so people are traveling more to visit relatives this season. We are told that the custom here is to celebrate Christmas on the 24th, and recover on the 25th. This will be our first Christmas in Panama and we are looking forward to seeing how things are done here. We have listened to Christmas music in all the stores since late in November. Santa arrived at the big malls and decorations are everywhere. Everything is the same as home except for the snow and the fact that it is not Merry Christmas but rather Feliz Navidad!
Our gardener, Paulino, who normally takes the bus to work, came to us today to ask if we could give him a ride home because someone had given him a rabbit and cage for his kids for Christmas. Of course, we ran him home and got a chance to meet his family and give them some small gifts. It was the first time we have had an opportunity to meet his family.
Clearly, they understand the spirit of Christmas here in Panama. I must tell you that we were invited to a small gathering that happens each year. Our good friends Antonio and Cokey invite all the families of all the staff they work with over the year (cook, cleaner, gardener, handy-man, etc.) to their house for a Christmas dinner. These are folks that make very little money and don’t have much to spend for Christmas.
There were around 25 people there, all dressed in their best clothes. The kids (aged 3 to 16 or so) were so well-behaved. The routine is that after dinner, everyone gathers in the living room and Cokey plays Santa, handing out two gifts to each kid. One is clothing and the other is a toy! Very generous on their part. Without being asked, the kids all wait quietly until everyone has their presents before they begin opening theirs. I must say that I don’t remember ever being so restrained about opening Christmas gifts, when I was a kid.
The whole point of the exercise (for me) was all the smiles on the kids faces! It was great to see. Truly, this is one of the greatest things about Christmas!
On Christmas we are off to an expat Christmas brunch at Smitty and Rochelle’s house. The expat community here is very social and everyone is invited to everything. Those of you who know about my ongoing craving for turkey will be pleased to note that since we arrived here in Cerro Azul, we have had four turkey dinners! I think I have found a place that I really like!!
The mountain here is quite quiet over the Christmas Season. Many of the Panamanian stay in the city to celebrate with family and many of the expats don’t arrive until after the new year. Real Christmas trees are available here and are quite popular, but expensive. I am told there is one shipload of Christmas Trees that comes from Nova Scotia, each year. It’s arrival and customs clearance is followed closely by those who want the best trees and by the time they arrive, they are in a pretty sorry state. Some of our friends have real trees that look quite nice and are around six feet tall. I heard a price of around $70 for one. On the other hand, we saw a small tent outside one of the food stores with the largest collection of sorry looking Charlie Brown trees that I have ever seen. Brown needles and occasional branches on a four foot stick for $5. I am sure that your tree doesn’t look like that but then it has a much shorter trip to make.
Anyways, thanks for following my blog. I am just approaching 20,000 hits, which humbles me. Have a Merry Christmas tomorrow and enjoy some turkey!