Friday, 20 December 2013

Simply having an indifferent (Colombian) Christmas time

This time of year is of course very family orientated, especially for those from a Christian background. So the fact that we decided, yet again, to leave our clan with the Christmas period within earshot, has left many here in our second home wondering why. And it hasn't just been the Colombians who have asked us this, but even fellow expats: 'Why didn't you wait until after the 'holiday season' to return?'
Some of Bogotá's Christmas lighting -- credit where credit is due
Some of Bogotá's Christmas lights are pretty impressive

It's not that we're anti-Christmas, far from it. Indeed back home we really do enjoy the festive period and we always have. Even when we've had to work through some of it, as was the case in our most recent ones spent in Ireland, we've generally liked the whole atmosphere it generates.

Yet this is perhaps the crux of the matter; Christmas for us is about home and everything that goes with it. Not being in the place where we spent 23 uninterrupted years merrily munching through turkey and ham dinners every December 25th (plus the very satisfying second, third and even fourth servings in the subsequent days) means we have a slight indifference towards it now that we're not there. Here in Bogotá it just doesn't feel the same as we gear up for our third consecutive 'holiday season' (we like to be politically correct every now and again) outside of the homeland.

In one sense it's a case of 'out of sight, out of mind'. That is, while Colombia does obviously 'do Christmas', it's not the Western, winter version we know and love. (Okay credit is forthcoming for trying to replicate the winter scenes. Some of the lighting displays are impressive enough and accompanied with the odd relatively chilly night in Bogotá it can at times seem 'semi-Christmassy', but in the end we just don't buy it. For starters, the daytime temperatures are just too mild.)

A large part of the Christmas ambiance we like are the tried and trusted, cheesy as some may be, tunes; Fairytale of New York being one of our favourites (and we hasten to add it's far from cheesy).* Yes, Colombia has its Yuletide melodies, but again, as we haven't grown up with them, they just don't resonate; although this little radio advertisement for Café Aguila Roja,, akin, perhaps, to the Irish clothing retailer Penneys' “whole lot of things for Christmas” is beginning to grow on us (pickings are slim).** This year, we state without shame, we've found ourselves listening on line to Ireland's Christmas FM just to get us 'in the mood' – we even got ourselves a 'shout out' on it from across the waves.

So with all this, let's call it 'mild yearning' for a traditional home Christmas in mind, why exactly didn't we stay? Well we left just before the season got into full swing, so that helped. Plus, we had to balance any desire to remain with the fact that we had already spent longer in Ireland this year than we had envisaged, especially so when there were, and are, very few decent job opportunities around. We figured the money we'd spend during an Irish Christmas would easily pay, with a bit to spare, for flights back to Colombia, or anywhere for that matter.
Last year's remake of Bethlehem proved a hit with Bogotanos; we got in for free, honestly
Never mind a live crib, how about a live Bethlehem, Bogotá style?

Also, there is the case that we're perhaps being overly nostalgic, looking back on past Christmases a tad too fondly compared to what the reality was. For sure it's better to have happy memories than sad ones. More significantly though, some of those things that signalled Christmas to us have now gone and can't be replaced. This year we said goodbye to an uncle and good friend, somebody who was as much part of our festive memories as those aforementioned turkey and ham dinners, the songs or, in our earliest years, Santa Claus.

Thus, as we all know, things are constantly changing, evolving – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. With time we might come to embrace a Colombian Christmas. Or maybe we've just 'moved on' from getting too engrossed in it, no matter where we are.

One positive thing about being indifferent is that we don't have to face those January blues; there's no big low if you don't have the high. Steady as she goes and all that.

*Any excuse for a blast of Fairytale of New York:

**Not exactly the Penneys ad version we're looking for but it gives an idea:

Finally, and regardless of your thoughts of the shenanigans at this time of year, we'd like to wish everybody a happy and peaceful Christmas/Holiday Season!


  1. Great post! We are running a Christmas photo challenge at the moment by which we hope to gather photos and descriptions of Christmas traditions from all around the world. If you'd like to participate, write a couple of sentences about Christmas in your country, send us a photo to represent it and we will publish the best entries on our blog with a link to your site. Sounds good? :) Here you will find more details:
    Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! :)