Saturday, December 21, 2013

santiago at christmas (part 1)

at the end of october, you'll start to see make-shift carts pop up all over the city. at first, they are an eye-sore: put together with rustic poles and blue tarps, covered in cardboard boxes. as the cart is loaded up with christmas goodies, it becomes beautiful. the grapes hang from strings, neatly organized bags of gum-candies hang next to the grapes, twisting and turning in the breeze. nuts in transparent plastic boxes next to mounds of red, juicy apples line the table tops. mandarin oranges are strung together on red-plastic clothesline, and regular oranges, already peeled and ready for consumption are stacked on end-tables. it's really quite a sight.

when i first moved here, apples and grapes were only available from november to january. they're imported from chile and are considered a delicacy. some grapes (and strawberries) are grown in the mountain towns of jarabacoa and constanza, but the rest of the island never chills enough for fall fruits. even today, it is hard to get grapes and apples in smaller towns and villages. but, here is santiago, they line the streets for three precious months.

i love this season here - the decorations catch me off guard sometimes, and i only know one christmas villancico to sing during the aguinaldos but i am forever awed by the sense of community and love that comes out at this time of year. there are entire barrios decorated with recycled materials and donate money (next blog post), and even if they aren't mind blowing, an arbolito adorns many an intersection. around this make-shift tree - usually made from wire or pvc pipes, decorated with plastic bags and twinkle lights - people gather to drink ginger tea and catch up. the nights are cool and the lightness of the season shines through.

last year, a group of teenagers woke us up at 5:30 am with christmas carols played on a drum and guira outside of our window. they left us, and headed to school to drink ginger tea and spend time with their
classmates and teachers outside of the classroom.

i made up christmas baskets for the employees at school, and everything i thought to put in the basket was not "what goes in a basket" - apples for the family, a pound of grapes, marshmallows, gum-candy, lollipops and hard candy. we added a few extras (rice, beans, and oil; hand sanitizer in a cute carry-case; nail polish, a bath towel), but it was the christmas specialties that got the most positive reaction. for me, the simplest things in the basket.

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