Lights, Action, Christmas!

oraleIt’s Christmastime in Colima and the competition is fierce. A neighbor recently described our colonia as looking a little like Las Vegas. I think that sums it up nicely.

Where does this Christmas tale begin? Somewhere deep in the Mexican psyche. I have been living in Colima for almost six months now and in addition to the mandatory nightly gossip sessions; I have observed another interesting idiosyncrasy – competitive behavior.  All societies are competitive in some shape or form. In the United States we love to compete for bragging rights – winners pridefully gloat “I am number one and the rest of your losers suck.”  In Mexico it feels a bit more egalitarian – the privilege to say “I am first among equals; the best within my social group or club.” But let there be no doubt the objective is to be number one.

Because there is no holiday feast marker like Thanksgiving to officially kickoff the holiday season; Christmas decorations (adornos navideñas) start to go up a little later than in the US. In Colima, according to my in-laws, folks tend start decorating around the first or second week of December. Although I am seriously enjoying the beautiful, sunny weather; it still feels strange. Palm trees and Santa Claus? Por el amor de Dios poor Santa would have heat stroke and his reindeer would die of exhaustion in Colima.

Weapons of Mass Envy.

When my husband Carlos and I returned to Chicago I made the mistake of unleashing him in Macy’s, Target and Home Depot. Watching his Christmas shopping frenzy reminded me of the lines from Dr. Suess’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Some $300 later our shopping bags were stuffed with “snoof and tringlers and fuzzles, pantookas, dafflers and wuzzles.” Of course, all of this being done with one single goal in mind. To win the Bosque Real Christmas Light and Decoration championship.

Once we were home again the work began immediately. Christmas tree up and decorated – check; branches carefully and strategically illuminated – check. Carlos conducted a detailed final inspection. He had to be sure every Christmas bulb and strand of tinsel was strategically placed so that when our front door opened our neighbors would be dazzled.

The electric candles were placed in the windows; the crèche on the bookcase; scented candles on the tables. Finally, everything was perfectly Christmas-tized. At the end we still had about a dozen extra Christmas bulbs. “What should we do with these?” I asked as I walked towards the tree.

A Christmas Accident.

Carlos quickly responded, “No. They cannot go on the Christmas tree because they are not the right color.  Put them in the bag and we can use them next year.” The last thing I wanted to do was to re-pack these bulbs, take them upstairs; climb the ladder and place them on the closet shelves. We had a spindly potted Norfolk Island Pine growing in front of the first floor bedroom window; I put the bulbs on the branches and went back inside.

A Christmas accident becomes the hot new trend

Little did I know that this random, innocent move born out of laziness would start a neighborhood trend and new tradition.

The next day our neighbor, Dona Ana, hung Christmas bulbs on her flowering tree; and then two other neighbors decorated their trees with bulbs. Over the next week the trend spread down the street and around the corner. Carlos noticed and was thrilled beyond belief. He started to hold court at the nightly gossip sessions. Whenever we returned home from dinner he’d take an extra turn around the park so he could take stock and inventory of the homes decorating their trees. He’d also judge them like a competition. “This one is ugly; this is good,” he’d say. When I would look his direction he’d be smiling from ear to ear.

Ready for Prime Time – Unveil the Secret Weapon.

What the hell. This is crazy. An ostensibly a random act soon became the height of neighborhood fashion. I was dumbfounded. Did I have a latent innate sense of fashion; was this the expression of the so-called Martha Stewart gay gene that all gay men are rumored to have or just dumb luck?

Looks like we have a Christmas winner!

Two days later Carlos was prepared to unveil the coup de grace – laser lights. He waited for just the right time.  Carlos knew these lights were impossible to find in Colima. You’d be able to buy them in Mexico City; maybe you could find them in Guadalajara, but he knew for certain no one in our colonia would have this feature.

The lights dazzled the neighborhood. Neighbors along our street stopped by and complimented us on the feature. One night Doctor Hernandez’s wife brought her grandson to look at the house. She said to Carlos, “My grandson loves your house Carlitos he wanted me to bring him here to look at it; it is so beautiful (bien iluminado).”

The day after Dr. Hernandez chided Carlos, “Ay, Carlitos you drove my wife crazy; she is so envious – now I have to buy lights and install them over the weekend. Where did you buy those lights?”

He smiled innocently, “I bought them when I was in Chicago. I don’t think you can find them here.”  In point of fact, he knew you couldn’t find them here in Colima. “Malditos (damn),” the doctor sighed. Game. Set. Match. Victory had been achieved.

Warm Christmas Meditations.

The judgement of others is very important here.  Unlike the big cities of the US, in Colima our lives are interconnected.  In Chicago I knew more about my neighbor’s dogs than my neighbors’ life. It is the opposite here. In our colonia we lead very public lives. For me, a very quiet, private person, – this change has been a bit of a challenge. However, over time I’ve begun to appreciate the fact that I have been pushed out of my comfort zone.

Here, my neighbors visit me regularly; they share food and family stories and are always ready to lend a hand when needed. This is the wonderful aspect of being an expatriate. I’m drowning in culture and emerging reborn – a resurrection. I love the surprises and challenges; I like being forced to reconsider my thoughts, rationales and perspectives.

The Greatest Gift of All.

For me, this half year of adventure has been the greatest gift of all. It is something I cannot place in a box or wrap with a bow. Of all the perils I have faced from hordes of insects; to severe diarrhea to drivers that make me scream in fear; I would not exchange these moments for all of the stability in the world.  Through these wonderful challenges I have grown immensely and will never be the same person again.

Whereas I was a man of great impatience and a slicing direct manner; I have become forbearing and polite. As an “only child” (my sisters are 20 and 18 years old than I); I have discovered the gift of family and the love of simple times together.  I would have never known that an evening of gossip could be just as enjoyable as a day at the Louvre.

Herald Angels Sing
Christmas peregrinación in Colima

To my surprise, I have frayed the corners of my rational and scientific atheism; opening my mind and heart to the experience of religion. Along the way I have rediscovered hope and optimism.

This is why I recommend being an expatriate to my friends and family. It’s more than exotic food and crazy foreign words; it’s a chance to be again – to be alive; to be relevant and to be free.

Although I am still craving just a little bit of those fabled Chicago winters and I miss all my favorite holiday traditions like egg nog and Christmas television specials; I feel just as happy and nostalgic as I have every Christmas.

Feliz Navidad, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone.